Tips for Tots: Talking to Children After Tragedy

By Anne A. McGrady

The Boston tragedy was yet another tragedy children of today have experienced.  It is difficult for children to comprehend why, how these tragedies occur, and yet we are experiencing them too, too frequently.

As children ask questions, reassure them that these tragedies are rare and that they are safe.

This famous quote from Mister Rogers may be comforting for kids and parents:  “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.”  To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”


• Tell children the truth what happened.  Better they hear it from you.

• Use a broad stroke approach in explaining – details aren’t necessary.

• There were explosives at the marathon, some people were hurt. (Broad stroke dialog)

• Limit exposure to media.

• Events like these are very rare.

• Usually you are very safe in public places.

• Let children know that you and others are always working so that their town, etc. is safe. 

• Discuss ways children may need time to process information and you may find behaviors, attitudes may be affected weeks after the event.  Be patient, kind, understanding.

If your child is sad, anxious or may need extra help coping with these disasters, contact your pediatrician.



Kids about Boston, H. M.D. – 2013

Children after Tragedy – Claire McCarthy, Boston Children’s Hospital, 2013



• Me and My Dragon, by David Biedrzycki, 4-6 years. 

(How do you care for a pet dragon?  Imaginative and fund to read out loud.  Gorgeously illustrated, a great tale.)


• Glamorous Glasses, by Barbara Johansen Newman, 4-6 years

(A charming tale of two good friends who support each other through thick and thin.  Puts a positive spin on getting glasses.)


• The Perfect Hug, by Joanna Walsh, Illustrated by Judi Abbott, 2-4 years

(It’s great fun exploring all the different kinds of hugs.  Joyous celebration of one of the simplest ways to show you care.)