News and Tribune

December 14, 2012

How to talk with your kids about tragedy

LifeSpring expert gives advice on getting through trying times


> SOUTHERN INDIANA — LifeSpring Inc. counselor Jana Kixmiller provided guidance on how area parents and guardians can help their children cope with the shooting massacre that occurred at a Connecticut elementary school Friday morning.

Kixmiller is the Senior Vice President of Clinical Services and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at the community mental health center. She suggested that parents and guardians limit their children’s exposure to media coverage of the incident. Kixmiller said a child may not be able to differentiate between a broadcast station replaying the event and reality.

“If a child watches something on TV over and over again, they may think the incident is continuing to happen,” she said.

Kixmiller said adults should also be cognizant of talking about such tragic incidents in the presence of, especially, very young children. Young people are more aware of adult conversations taking place around them than parents may realize, she said, adding that when a child overhears adults talking about tragedies, it can create psychological stress for the youngster.

She said the more exposure a child has to an event such as the Connecticut school shooting — through media coverage, adult conversations or interaction with their peers — the more likely the child will have a negative reaction.

“People need to realize exposure to graphic images on TV, or situations where they are seeing children on TV who are scared or crying can be very upsetting to children,” Kixmiller said.

She said ignoring situations of extreme misfortune is not the best tactic either, adding the ubiquitous nature of contemporary media results in children becoming aware of highly covered news stories.

Kixmiller said in cases where children have become aware of tragic events, parents and guardians should ask their children what they understand about the incident then make sure their children’s interpretations are accurate, clear up any misconceptions and ask the children if they have any questions about the unfortunate event. She said parents should deliver their explanations of tragic events to their child in an age-appropriate fashion.

Lastly, Kixmiller advised that parents stress how authorities positively respond to such events and reassure their children of their own safety.

Parents can find additional information about talking to their child about highly tragic events on the facility’s website at