Explaining tragedies to children

Published: Nov. 14, 2022 at 4:51 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - A lot of kids are fans of the UVA Cavaliers and have their favorite players they look up to.

Like a lot of tragedies, this heartbreak may be hard to explain. Sunday night’s shooting that took the lives of three players is no different.

The CEO of Virginia Family Therapy says it is better to have a truthful age-appropriate conversation with your kids than to try to protect them from the outside world.

“You want to give them a place when they’re feeling scared. Your presence is going to make them feel safer,” Amanda Sovik-Johnston said. “You want to be honest, but also mindful about the level of detail that you’re giving them.”

Doctor Claudia Allen with the University of Virginia recommends getting your own emotions under control before talking with your child.

“They read our emotions and our nonverbals, and they take their cue from us as to whether they should be afraid or not. So, you want to present yourself to them in a fairly calm manner, then what you want to do is you want to stick to the truth. This is not the time for white lies,” Dr. Allen said.

UVA football is important to many people in the community, with many children meeting or seeing players at the games. Experts say it is important to let them know they have met them before.

“If your child did have some familiarity with one or more of these people, even very distantly, it is important to acknowledge that it really is a tragedy. And to give your child the space to talk about it, and not to minimize it. So, to say to them, ‘Oh, you had met this young man at your game.’ Or, ‘We went to the game, and we saw him play. That is so sad that now he’s gone. How are you feeling about it?’ Dr. Allen said.

Sovik-Johnston says it is OK to acknowledge the sadness by asking questions and allowing time for them.

“Just checking in with your kids, you know, once a few times a day and just say, ‘How are you feeling? How are you doing? Do you have any thoughts about it? Do you want to talk about it?’” Sovik-Johnston said. “We’re all going through this together, all of the feelings are OK. We just need to come together as a community in order to help ourselves heal.”

She says that when she broke the news to her children that several UVA players died in Sunday night’s shooting that she first took a deep breath, then worked to make sure they knew it was normal to feel scared or sad.

RELATED: UVA provides updates on deadly Culbreth Rd. shooting, suspect in custody

Do you have a story idea? Send us your news tip here.