At what age should one talk to their children about traumatic events? First, I don’t think there are black and white answers for questions like this. You have to consider the child, their age and developmental stage, the parent, the situation, as well as the family’s belief systems, etc.
Rule of thumb…don’t lie to children or use statements like “they are sleeping” when the person is really dead, or “Nothing bad will happen” when the truth is that we don’t have control over bad things happening. If these exact questions are posed…you answer them honestly with minimal information. You give the child the smallest amount of information to start and see if it is enough. If they press further, you take it to the next step…follow their lead.
The most important thing for our children to know is that “we will be all right.” Of course, you have to be real about what “all right” means. They generally need to know that they will never be alone (family, friends), there will always be someone to take care of them and love them. Security is their number one concern. Every child fears being alone or being left without their family members. At their developmental stage they can’t imagine being able to live without anyone they love. Of course, there are times life will challenge that for them and they will lose someone they love. Our job then is to create an environment for them where they feel safe, and loved, and never alone and empower them to realize they can live without the very people they thought they couldn’t live without. Challenges like this are what build resiliency in both children and adults. More on that another time!
Sometimes a belief in a higher power helps with this…but there are challenges there as well. We have to be very careful to NOT create an image of a God (or a higher power if that language works better for you) that won’t allow bad things to happen. That is a sure way to create a life of fear and no faith when something bad does happen. Be careful with things like “we will pray to keep them safe” because if you give a child the idea that his/her prayer will keep the person safe and then something happens to that person…they will often think THEY did something wrong. They may think they didn’t pray hard enough or the God they prayed to doesn’t love them enough to keep their loved one safe. That discussion is for a different day!
Regarding seeking professional help…We should always be aware of changes within our children. If you notice a change in their mood, their activity level, their ability to eat or sleep…those are things to be concerned about but not to panic about. Again, a rule of thumb is when something gets in the way of a person’s ability to function in a way that has been normal for them…it’s worth noticing and responding to. Sometimes just noticing it, making time to truly be present to them, offering to listen, and assuring them you (and others) are there for them is most important. Sometimes just acknowledging that you notice is enough to make them feel they can handle (and maybe share) what they are going through. Assuring them there is nothing wrong with them, etc. is most important. Of course, offering to get help outside of what you can give them is the next step.
I believe it is important for parents to embrace the “it takes a village” approach when it comes to our children…especially adolescents. I worked as a high school teacher for ten years and I had many students that shared with me things they could not share with their parents. When my own children went through their high school years, I had to trust that there would be people there to listen with the ear of compassion when they could not reach out to me. The ego has to step aside and we have to be sure to create environments where there are leaders we trust. Know who is in your child’s life. Know who they are talking to. Social media challenges that…and again…that discussion is for another day!
I am a Therapist specializing in individual, couples and family therapy specializing in bereavement, anxiety and depression, life transition, women’s issues, Spirituality, mindfulness, meditation, and general wellness. I maintain a private practice in Newington, CT called The Sacred Self, LLC.
I am a graduate of University of St. Joseph specializing in Community Mental Health with a concentration in Spirituality. I currently serve as a private practitioner working with a broad spectrum of clients.
In addition to being a prominent relationship therapist, I have twenty years of teaching experience ranging from pre-school to high school and beyond! I have also presented at various conferences/workshops and to general audiences speaking on the topics of meditation, self-care, wellness, and spirituality.