Las Vegas tragedy, now what? How to talk to kids after a tragic event

An ambulance leaves the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The tragedy in Las Vegas may have many parents wondering -- how do you talk to kids when tragic events occur, especially children who attend concerts?

Trauma can certainly take a toll on us, and adults should be mindful of how it affects children and how our response could influence their response. The images are incessant and flood the media continuously, making it a difficult topic to broach. 

According to psychologist Dr. Martha Womack, of St. Vincent's health care, listening is critical, no matter a child’s age. It is recommended to identify exactly what your child may be asking or wanting to know. 
Womack states that “we can’t make assumptions about what they know or think.” It helps to ask open-ended questions and give kids the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings.

For younger children, “you don’t want to overwhelm them with facts” and instead will want to keep your answers to their questions simple, says Womack. Make concrete and clear statements like, “Something bad has happened. We don’t know why bad things happen, but you are safe and loved.” 

When talking to older children about tragedies, especially teens, who have better access to information, through the internet or at school, you should feel free to explore what they’ve learned with them. This allows you to make sure they’re focusing on what’s known about a tragedy rather than speculation or fantasy.
Regardless of age, focus on safety and what we can do rather than what we can’t do. According to Womack, “we should prepare a plan on the things we can control,” like exit plans when attending concerts.
Talk to your children and family about how they can help those in need and how they can help make their own community safer. 

It is important to strike a balance between discussing the tragedy and not dwelling on it. 

Medical professionals suggest that you don’t be afraid to ask for help. Take advantage of school counseling resources and community resources.