Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

News & Events

How to Talk to Children in Times of Traumatic Crisis

People throughout the world are struggling to come to terms with the unthinkable violence that humans can inflict on each other. As parents, most of us wish we could shield our children from the disturbing images and news that are pervading media and conversation. But we also know that talking to our kids about these events is important.
This week, I have turned the blog pen over to Nicole Gillis-Copping, R.S.W. Nicole is one of Assist’s counsellors who works extensively with children and youth. I am pleased to present Nicole’s excellent strategies about talking to children during traumatic times.

Assist’s professional counselling program covers your dependent children. If you are concerned about how your child or children are processing difficult subject matters or emotions (or anything else), please call 1-877498-6898 to schedule an appointment.


How to Talk to Children in Times of Traumatic Crisis

by Nicole Gillis-Copping

  • Whether children hear terrible news or see traumatic images on the news directly or feel the impact of heightened strain through other people, they look to and gauge the adults around them to help make sense of their thoughts and feelings.
  • With some thoughtful steps, we can support both ourselves and the children teens we care for to better manage the impact of the news and avoid being immersed, overwhelmed, or traumatized.
  • In times of worry and fear grounded supportive and attentive presence is what is most important.


  1. Listen
    • Start with what they've heard, what are they wondering or thinking about?
    • What kind of feelings are they having? Check in.
    • You may not have all the answers, but listening to them and accepting their questions will create the sense that they are not alone with their thoughts and feelings.
    • Watch for their non-verbal cues also if they aren’t talking much, you may see signs that they are fearful and struggling.
    • When you don’t know what to say it is ok to acknowledge that, adults don’t always have the answers especially in regard to things that are unfathomable. You can follow it with statements such as, “I am here, you aren’t alone in this”, "this is very shocking to be able to process, it's ok to get help to process this.”
  2. Acknowledge Emotions and Worries with Age-Appropriate Information.
    • Toddlers pick up on emotions and may use their imaginations to gain understandings. They absorb what’s around them. Their emotions may come out in physical and behavioral responses such as stomach aches, behavioral or anxious reactions.
    • School age kids gain information from peers and other adults as well as at home. They may be hearing about the issues in their classrooms.
    • Soothe and support children without giving too much unnecessary information.
    • When supporting older children and youth, you will need to talk with them about what they are hearing and the issues and facts involving the events. It’s best not to minimize the issues, and to remind them not to continue to be bombarded with the content and images.
  3. Honesty is important.
    • It is wise not to re-assure children about circumstances where you don’t know what is going to happen. For example, saying “it will be ok” when it may not. It is more helpful to say something like, “I know this is shocking and upsetting and impossible to understand” and/or “we will feel ‘our’ feelings together” (unless they want some time to self). It is important to acknowledge what we are feeling to cope with it.
    • Empathy & validation is a good way to reassure children/teens.
    • Statements like:
      • “This is serious and is out of our control I know, and that is so difficult.”
      • “We are all having big or heavy emotions right now. I am here to help you and we will help each other”
      • "We are grieving and it is important to understand/acknowledge that and cope the best we can."
  4. Monitor Exposure
    • Manage how much time you and your kids are spending watching TV, reading the news online and are engaging in social media updates and sharing.
    • Children can be quickly over-exposed and overstimulated by the barrage of information out there. Know when it is time to turn it off and explain this to teens. Also watch how much time a teen is spending in isolation.
    • It is also important to explain the ‘misinformation’ that is out there to children. If you don’t know what it is, see if you can learn and become more informed. Sometimes teens know more about this than their parents!
  5. Self-Care
    • Our well-being is at-risk during crisis and tragedies when our sense of safety is threatened. Explain this to teenagers.
    • Talk to others, seek support, support your children/teens, and explain to them that it is important not to hold feelings inside in isolation. Offer counselling support for your child/teen (and for yourself).
    • Find an adult to express YOUR fears and worries to AWAY from your children/teens so they don’t absorb your fears and become overwhelmed.
    • Create some balance and seek out things that are nurturing at this time. Spend some quality/nurturing time with your children (quality vs. quantity).
    • You can let teenagers know if they don’t want to talk to you about what they are feeling there are other outlets:
      • journaling, drawing, or coloring out emotions, being active/exercise, other mentors or relatives to reach out to.
  6. Positive Mindset During Difficult Times
    • Crises like war remind us of our mortality and how quickly things can change in our lives.
    • This also gives us an opportunity to be grateful for our own blessings. Although it is a difficult time to practice gratitude, we can’t also let the fear take over our lives.
    • Stay connected with others and your family.
    • You can focus some of your time on ways you can help – positive actions also help us cope.
    • Remember anxiety, worry, and grief are natural responses to tragic events… all you can do is your best in your given situation.