Talking to your children about tragedy

We live in scary times. Times where mass murders take place in schools, churches, concert venues, synagogues, and the list goes on.

When I read about the mass killing of 11 people attending Shabbat services in Pittsburgh yesterday, I was beyond shocked. A Bris was scheduled in the synagogue at this time. A Bris is a celebration where a circumcision is performed when a baby boy is 8 days old. It is a celebration of life and the child’s covenant with God as a Jew. While this joyous occasion was set to occur, a crazed madman felt it was his mission to mercilessly destroy innocent lives and families in a place of worship. This is horrifying on every level!

My children heard me gasp as I read the article and showed it to my husband. We whispered in outrage to one another. My oldest one wanted to know what we were talking about. I chose not to tell him. I couldn’t think of a way to explain this to him or his younger siblings. Although we don’t go to Shabbat services often, we attend services and events for a multitude of Jewish holidays and celebrations. His grandparents and cousins attend services weekly. I didn’t want him to think that this was going to happen to his family or any other Jew for practicing their religion. I want to shield him and his siblings from the ugliness in the world a little longer. He will be 10 next month and will soon know the evils of the world. It will be beyond my control before I know it. He knows about death and loss through his pets. He has dealt with mean people. He has been bullied in the neighborhood and at school. I have explained the Holocaust and 9/11 to him. We have talked about good and bad people. He knows enough and has experienced enough. He is fortunate to only have “kid fears” at this point.

Deciding to tell your children about tragedy is a personal decision. I do not believe that there is a right or wrong answer to this. I realize there is a chance that he will learn about it elsewhere & I will be available to talk with him about it, if that happens. If you decide to talk to your kids about this tragedy or any other horrific event, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Keep information to a minimum- Don’t share graphic details that may give them nightmares. Share the event details succinctly and be available to answer their questions. Limit exposure to media covering the event.

2. Give them time to process the information. Some children may not understand the gravity of what you are explaining. They may shut down. They may change the subject to something more mundane. They may ignore everything you said altogether. They may cry. They may ask questions. This is all normal! Everyone, regardless of their age, handles learning about tragedy differently.

3. Be there for them! Support their emotions. Comfort them with hugs and reassurance.

4. Normalize their feelings. Although, they may be trying to understand a situation that is anything but normal, it is normal to feel sad, angry, confused, etc.

5. Encourage them to do something that can support those impacted or something special in their honor or memory. Today at Hebrew school, the children will be encouraged to do 11 extra Mitzvot in honor of the 11 people who tragically died. Mitzvot is the Hebrew word for “commandment.” However, it is commonly defined as good deeds.

Even though my children may not learn the specifics of this event, they will be encouraged to be kind to one another. They will be encouraged to help one another and support one another. We will find 11 extra Mitzvot to complete this week in memory of innocent people who were fulfilling God’s commandment of keeping the Sabbath day holy by attending Shabbat services.

May their memories be a blessing

19 thoughts on “Talking to your children about tragedy

  1. Loved ready your blog and also you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Wanda!! Hope you are well! 😘

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  2. Thank you for writing this. So hard to explain to them without making them fearful, but like with so many things, better to explain anti-semitism to our children ourselves before someone hurls it in their faces. We’re choosing to give tzedaka in memory of the 11 victims to HIAS.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome!! Very true and I love that you are giving tzedaka to such a worthy cause.

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  3. This was a very important and interesting blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Such an important topic. With so much going on in the world today. My twins had a threat at their school a few days ago.

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  5. Such a great post! Unfortunately, Children learn about such things in school. In my child’s school, there is always someone to tell my child about things I would rather him not know about at the age of nine. We have to learn how to talk to our children about these things in one way or another.

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  6. Such a dreadful thing. My son (an adult) asked me today why Jews are targetted, I studied the Holocaust and Fascism at uni and have come to the conclusion that I don’t know. Two compelling semesters could not answer that question for me. I can’t believe the senseless violence that happened this weekend and don’t understand how some people (the perpetrators) can think this a positive action. My thoughts are with the victims.

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  7. It sure breaks my heart that we even have to think about this. Thank you for the tips and encouraging us to teach our kids to help people in a tangible way.

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  8. Such Challenging times. My children are grown now we have the same discussions just different words. Such a tragic tragic thing to happen. I worry how can things get worse.

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  9. Very well said and great info to take away as a parent on how to deal with these situations!!! Thank you!!

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  10. It’s important to discuss prejudice with our kids. It encourages them to practice tolerance for all. I think we should also discuss death with our kids and how to cope with the loss of a loved one.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. It can be so hard to talk with kids about tragedy. I often ponder how to handle these things. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Such a terrible tragedy to happen. I also believe that sharing tragedy with our children should be a personal choice. But it is also something that we, as parents, should control the narrative that our children are exposed to. Your guidelines were very appropriate.

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  13. It is imperative that parents discuss current events with children, even the tragedies. As hard as it is to talk about (and I agree that details of great length do not need to be a part of the talk), parents need to talk to their little ones about the difficult things, the children are going to hear snippets on tv, radio and even the playground making it only more confusing for them if they have not been informed properly, allowing them the ability to process with people who care for and love them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We can agree to disagree on this one. It depends on the age, emotional well being and the physical distance from the traumatic event. Some children are not equipped to handle such information and are susceptible to being traumatized from learning of the event. Yes, if it’s in your home town- they should learn it from you. There is more likelihood that they will hear about it at school. However, if it’s across the country, it’s a different story. It’s a very personal decision.

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  14. I faced a similar situation some years ago after the ‘Dunblane Masacre’ here in UK, where 16 young school children and their teacher were gunned down in their classroom. My young son had heard about it and asked me if it would happen at his school; of course I tried to reassure him that it wouldn’t, but then why, he asked, did it happen at Dunblane school? I wasn’t able to give a credible answer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is such a hard question to answer. What an intuitive child! Wow!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. So heartbreaking, I was speechless when I heard the news. May these 11 souls gather in heaven today. 🙏🏽

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