Supporting Your Child During Upsetting Events

Dear St. John Families,

In light of yesterday’s events in D.C. and as we all navigate these stressful and unsettling times, I wanted to share some tips and resources for supporting your child. I hope you find the information below helpful and please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you need some additional support. My email is cs***@st***********.org and my (virtual) door is always open. 🙂

Let’s remember that we’re all in this together and as our school theme so perfectly captures this year, “Together We Can: Act with Justice, Love with Mercy, and Walk Humbly with God.”


Ms. Shaw

Tips for Supporting Your Child During Upsetting Events

  1. Follow your child’s lead and listen, understand, and validate their experiences.
      • Your child may be feeling a range of emotions—from fear, anxiety, anger, and sadness, to confusion or helplessness. Alternatively, they may not even be aware of or concerned by what is going on and that is completely fine, too. Your child’s feelings will depend on what they know as well as their age. My number one piece of advice is to follow your child’s lead.
      • If your child is indicating that they want to talk about what’s going on, it’s important to listen, understand, and validate their feelings and experience. Here’s just one example of what you might say to validate them: “It’s okay to be feeling that way right now. That’s a normal response to have when something unsettling is happening.”
      • If your child doesn’t bring these topics up to, that is perfectly ok, too. Younger children in particular may not know what is going on and you can help guard their childhood by limiting exposure to unsettling news and maintaining your normal routine.
      • Finally, I want to note that it’s important to avoid over-emphasizing feelings of fear or worry, as doing so can intensify these feelings. After you’ve done the listening, understanding, and validating, direct the conversation elsewhere to more hopeful and healthy topics (see tips 2 and 3 for ideas).
  2. Help your child focus on what they can control.
      • It can be very easy to get sucked into closely monitoring the news developments right now and begin to feel a sense of helplessness and as though the world is out of control. This is not a particularly useful place to be—especially for our kids. Instead, set limits on news consumption and encourage your child to focus on things in their life that they (and your family) can control. For instance, you can encourage them to make choices about what they want to do with their free time, what your family cooks for dinner, or what movie you watch together. For older children, you can remind them that they are in control of what they choose to think about, engage with, and look at. If the news is upsetting to them, they have the power to put away their phone and do something else.
  3. Look for the helpers.
      • Remind your child of the many adults in their lives and in this country who care deeply about them. Talk about and tell stories of the helpers and people doing good now, and in the past. This emphasis on the positive is comforting and reassuring to kids.

Additional Resources

  • The National Education Association has great tips that address how to talk to kids about the attack on the Capitol, with specific developmental considerations.
  • The Child Mind Institute also has some helpful recommendations on helping kids understand these events depending on their age.
  • Common Sense Media has some excellent suggestions for talking to kids about the violence at the Capitol, including questions to ask depending on your child’s age. They also have more general recommendations on how to talk to kids about violence, crime, and war that are helpful, too.
  • For younger students who need some help with making sense of the upsetting news headlines and images they’re seeing, I recommend Arthur Family Health. Using the children’s TV character, Arthur, PBS Kids put together a fantastic site that includes tips for kids and grown ups for when something upsetting happens in our world, as well as activities for kids to process their feelings.
  • As a family, consider listening to this read aloud of the story, “The Breaking News,” which does a nice job helping kids process scary news headlines while also talking about things they can do to feel better amid these upsetting times.
  • The National Associational of School Psychologists released a resource document with tips for parents on supporting students in the context of the 2020 election.