Tips for talking with your child with special needs about tragedy

WASHINGTON – With recent tragedies in the news, many children, including those challenged with special needs, are exposed to trauma through the media and in conversations. The Episcopal Center for Children (ECC), a nonprofit school serving children with special needs ages 5-14 in the Washington, DC area, offers some advice on how to talk with your child about tragedy.

• Use age appropriate language.

• Share what is appropriate for your child.

• Let your child know it is OK to talk to you about the tragedy. Spend time talking with your child. Let them know that they are welcome to ask questions and express their concerns and feelings.

• Be calm. Your child will look to you for cues about how to react. It’s OK for children to see adults sad or crying, but consider excusing yourself if you are experiencing intense emotions.

• Reassure your child about his or her own safety.

• Limit media exposure. Constant exposure to coverage of a tragedy can heighten anxiety.

• Avoid placing blame.

• Maintain your family routines.

• Promote self-care. Encourage your child to drink enough water, eat regularly, rest and exercise.

• Spend extra time together.

• Watch for signs of stress and anxiety in your child. Look for hyperactivity, irritability, regression, stomach aches/headaches, and separation anxiety. Take steps to relieve stress and anxiety.

• Get physical. Exercise can relieve stress and help you and your child get a better perspective.

• Pay close attention to your child if he or she has emotional problems, learning challenges, is going through major changes at home, or has experienced trauma in the past.

• Do not dismiss or minimize your child’s feelings.

• Encourage the expression of feelings.

• Do something for those affected by the tragedy.

• Get help if needed. If your child is still exhibiting signs of anxiety after a week or two. Seek out a school counselor, therapist, a member of the clergy, or any other spiritual leader or mental health professional.

Tips adapted from the Mayo Clinic,, and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

For more information about the Episcopal Center for Children, visit