By Sarah Bilodeau, Dramatherapist

It can be paralyzing as an adult when faced with talking to children about incidents of violence or other tragedies in an honest way that is also age appropriate. These tips below have shown to be helpful in times of need/crisis/confusion or shock for helping children to process the news.

Immediate response

  1. Ask your child how they feel about the incident. Allow the child to speak as much or as little as they feel comfortable with and let them know it is okay to have different feelings and thoughts.
  2. Listen with undivided attention. Empathize with and validate their feelings.
  3. Hug your child, reminding them that you are here with them.
  4. It’s okay and human to have feelings. Talking about feelings can allow them to be empathized with, understood, comforted, supported, and defused. Share, in a child-friendly way, how you feel about the incident.
  5. Reassure them that there’s nothing they could’ve done to help prevent this situation and that it’s not their fault that this happened.
  6. Emphasize that it wasn’t the victims’ fault that this happened to them. For incidents of violence, you can let them know the perpetrators were exceptionally unwell and suffering a lot inside.
  7. If they ask questions about death, answer in factual and simple ways.

In the future

  1. If your child struggles to talk about how they are feeling regarding the incident, you can suggest that they draw their feelings, then discuss the drawing and their feelings together.
  2. After this unexpected incident, your child may seek more closeness and show more clinginess towards you or other adults. It can help to spend more time with your child, and to offer extra reassurance and hugs.
  3. If your child starts showing signs of new behavior, such as restlessness, loss of appetite, nightmares, clinginess, withdrawal, aggressive behaviors or other irregular behavior, please don’t hesitate to consult with a therapist for further advice.

If you or someone you know needs someone to talk to, Lifeline Shanghai is available in English from 10:00 am – 10:00 pm every day. Call (021) 6279 8990 or visit for live chat and WeChat support details. For support in Chinese, the Psychological National Line can be reached at 12320 and Hopeline is 400 161 999