Must-read: A guide to explaining tragedies to children

Children understand tragedies and fears in terms of their own developmental level and personalise it to their own experience. It is important to talk to children honestly and in ways they can comprehend. Bear in mind, however, that giving them too much information can be scary and confusing.

Talking to pre-schoolers
Children up to five years of age think of the world in terms of their direct experience. Three- to five-year-olds might be interested in ambulances, soldiers, fire engines, people getting hurt, blood, fire, crashes and buildings falling down. You should try to explain the idea of war or terror in very simple terms.

Young children may also want to talk about it, repeatedly asking the same questions. This is because they are not fully able to comprehend the events or the feelings around them. It is useful to keep answering their questions, to ask them what they think, to see what they think would help. Young children might also want to draw pictures and dictate stories for you to write down.

The most important thing for pre-school-aged children is to reassure them that you will keep them safe. If they express particular fears, you can reassure them directly.

Talking to primary school children
Six- to twelve-year-olds are more able to understand events outside their direct experience. They are able to read, so protecting them from information about events is unlikely. This is an age where it is important to listen to children's ideas. They may understand some parts of the story very clearly and be totally confused about others.

Talking to secondary school children
We are a culture saturated in media violence with few skills to deal with the feelings associated with real tragedy or fear and fewer ideas about productive responses. It is likely that many media-saturated teens will experience confusion about the reality of any given situation. Many may be avoiding talking about the situation directly because they don't know what to do about the fear, anger, confusion and sadness they are feeling.

It is important to bring it up with them and to ask them what they think about it and how they are feeling. You can also ask them about how they think their friends are handling it. Some teens may be very fearful.

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