How to Talk to Kids About Tragic Events

On October 27, the City of Pittsburgh was struck with a senseless tragedy within the close-knit neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, which is also home to our Hazelwood center. Eleven neighbors perished as a result of the attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue, leaving us with broken hearts. 

Incidents like this one are difficult to process as adults. For children, it can be even more daunting as they witness the strong adults in their lives struggling with feelings of sadness, confusion, depression, and anger to name a few. 

In light of our concern for children’s welfare during tragic events, we have researched ways to talk to kids about tragedy. An article from, stood out. Below we share some of the tips offered in the article first published in response to the Squirrel Hill event.


Advice from Dr. G on how to talk to your kids about the mass shooting in Pittsburgh by Tracy Certo, Publisher of NextPittsburgh (10.28.2018)

  • The first step is to process your own emotions and experience away from your kids if you can.
  • It’s best with younger children to avoid letting them see disturbing images of the shooting which can stick in their minds.
  • If you are confident that they are not going to hear about it somewhere else, and your child is 8 or younger, Dr. G advises not bringing it up as they will struggle to understand.
  • If they are going to hear about it:
    • For children 7 and under, it may be best to start with one small piece of information: “Some people died this weekend in Pittsburgh.” As they ask you follow-up questions, keep your answers brief and age-appropriate. It’s also very useful to ask your child what they know about the topic – what they’ve heard and what they think they know. Once you’ve discussed that, and they’ve stopped asking questions, she says, then you stop talking. 
      • It is important to answer all the questions that they ask. And give a value to the situation as you discuss it: “It’s sad,” or “We’re thinking about those families.”
    • For older kids, find out what they know and ask them how they feel about it. Get their opinions and give them yours. This is a chance to reinforce your values.
      • Validate their feelings. And be sure to check back in within a few hours and again in a day.
  • Even as you are discussing something as painful as this subject, you can focus on the positive: Who are the heroes of the story? Take Mr. Rogers’ advice and “look for the helpers.”
  • Choose action. Doing something makes us all feel better. Attend a vigil, donate to the synagogue, get together with friends to discuss.
  • And if your child is having a hard time over the coming days and weeks, keep validating their feelings and spend time doing good with them.”


How do you handle talking about tragic events with your children? Let us know at