Sunday, December 16, 2012

How to Help Grandchildren Deal with Death and Tragedy

A few years ago I read an article that said children who have at least five adults who are supportive, encouraging and interested in their lives are significantly less likely to become involved in alcohol abuse, drug use and crime.  Among the supportive adults that were mentioned in the article were the parents and grandparents, as well as Scout leaders, ministers, teachers and babysitters.  This knowledge supports the idea that it really does take a village to raise a child and that we all have a responsibility to be a positive influence on the children in our lives.

When children we care about are exposed to tragedy, whether it is the loss of a loved one in their family or a horrible event such as the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, it is important that all of us reach out and let our children and grandchildren know how much we care about them.

Many of us feel insecure and uncertain about how to help children who are upset and stressed by tragedy.  However, ABC News and the other television networks have broadcast several interviews with child psychologists about how adults can help children deal with the emotions they experience when they are exposed to tragedy.  Below are some of the suggestions that have been reported.

How to Talk to a Child about Tragedy

First, most of the psychologists suggested that young children not be allowed to watch television coverage of significant tragic events like the Newtown, Connecticut shootings.  The graphic details that are sometimes depicted on television may be too upsetting for a child.

Next, always let children know that they can ask the adults in their family about anything and they will be given honest, non-hysterical answers.

When children do hear about a shooting or death, answer their questions honestly, but in an age appropriate manner.  Do not lie, but do not over-explain.  Keep it simple.

When children ask questions about an incident, start your answer by asking them what they already know.  It is not unusual for children to have misinterpreted some of the facts surrounding an event, so you want to make sure they don't have any crazy misconceptions about what happened.  The truth is frequently awful enough.  You do not want to let a child's imagination run wild.

If a child asks why someone would hurt children, ask the child why they think it happened. Take time to let children express their opinions. Then, engage the child in a conversation about how a few people, very few people, sometimes become mentally sick and make terrible mistakes.  Emphasize how rare this is and reassure them that they and their family are safe.

If the child expresses fear about returning to their own school, talk with them about all the safety precautions that are in effect at their school.  Remind them of all the adults who are there to protect them and talk about the safety drills they have practiced at school.  Be reassuring and express confidence that they will be safe.  There is nothing to be gained by further traumatizing a frightened child.

If you believe it will be helpful, offer to drive a child to school or walk them to class for the next few days.  Give them a bit more attention, love and care than normal.   Grandparents can often provide a little extra love and attention when a child's parents are overwhelmed with their jobs and other obligations. 

Remember how important it is for children to feel they are loved and supported by many adults, not just their parents.  By offering whatever help you can, you may do more than you realize to help your grandchildren grow up to be secure, happy adults.

If you are interested in learning more about Baby Boomers and their family relationships, financial planning, where to retire, common medical issues and more, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

You may also be interested in reading:

Healing Relationships with Your Adult Children
How to Cope with Death and Grief
Living with Your Kids

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Photo of grandparents playing with their grandchild courtesy of


  1. This is an extremely important and helpful article at a time when so many people need guidance. Well worth sharing.

  2. Thank you for Tweeting and promoting this blog post. I know that grandparents sometimes don't feel that they are that important in the lives of their grandchildren. However, when disaster hits, kids need to know they are surrounded by people who love them.


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