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How To Talk To Children About Tragedy

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Talking to kids about tragedy is hard. How much do you tell them? How do you inform them without terrifying them? I've got some tips for you.

Listen, I love all of our podcast episodes, I really do. So I’m not saying that this episode is better than the other ones. But for me, it has been the most helpful episode that we’ve recorded, thanks to our guest, Michelle Ciulla Lipkin. Michelle is the Executive Director of the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), so she deals every day with how to raise kids who are media literate.

Michelle’s father died when Pan Am flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. What makes Michelle (and this episode) especially helpful is that she has taken her experience and used it to help others.

There have been two significant tragedies in my daughter Fiona’s life (neither of them personal, thank goodness) that were so widely talked about that she was aware of them: The Newtown massacre, and what happened in Paris last week.

We completely  screwed up the first one. I’m going to throw my husband under the bus for this one, because he convinced me not to tell Fiona about Newtown. We kept the TV off all that weekend, and when she went to school on Monday she didn’t know. My husband was convinced that most of the kids wouldn’t know. But she was nine years old, and she was the only kid in her class who didn’t know.

When she got home that day she was in tears, and she asked me, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

So when the horrible murders happened in Paris I knew not to keep anything from her. We turned the TV off when she was around and talked to her about it in broad terms. That part went fine.

But on Sunday we were on the subway, on our way to Manhattan for a blogging event. And it occurred to me that since we were getting out at Penn Station there would probably be NYPD officers there with really big guns. It’s called the Hercules Team, and they’re usually deployed when there are special threats in NYC or when something really bad has happened someplace else.

She’s used to seeing police officers, but even I get a little freaked out seeing the Hercules Team with their gear and giant guns. So, I warned her. I warned her that when we got up to the street we might see them.

And that unleashed a torrent of questions that I wasn’t ready to answer. About Paris, about NYC, about Muslims, about terrorists, about refugees, about her own safety, about everything. She wanted me to assure her that she was safe, that we were all safe, and I just couldn’t. I felt like I would be lying to her. I’m not positive that I did any lasting damage—I don’t know if she was worse off because of our conversation—but I definitely didn’t help.

I really wish I could go back in time, having talked to Michelle, and handle both of those situations differently.

So please, listen to this podcast. You can listen to it below, or on iTunes (a subscription would really help us out, and you’ll get all of our future episodes!), or you can listen on the Play.It website.

I hope it helps you as much as it helped me. I feel so much more prepared now for whatever the next thing is. And make sure to read Michelle’s excellent article, In Response To Paris…

The rest of the links we mention in the podcast are below.


Neil Patrick Harris interview on KidzVuz

Jeff Jarvis parody Twitter account trolls the internet with Eiffel Tower picture

Lego’s Amazing New Slippers Will Spare Parents A Pain Like No Other

Jon Oliver on What Happened In France

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Nowvel Picture Board Books

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Talking to kids about tragedy is hard. How much do you tell them? How do you inform them without terrifying them? I've got some tips for you.


Wednesday 2nd of December 2015

I'm not yet a father yet, but soon. The earlier i learn these things, the better father i would be. Thanks for sharing this. I'll just go ahead and listen to the podcast.

Danielle @ tiny-trots

Tuesday 24th of November 2015

It's so sad that we're in a place right now where have to talk about terrorism with our children. Great topic and I look forward to hearing the podcast.

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