The Trauma Lines Blog

Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists

Tips on Talking to Your Child about Trauma

with 4 comments

How do children deal with the traumatic and the unexpected?

The recent natural disaster in Haiti has brought out emotional reactions in all of us. As adults, whether it’s through the internet, newspapers, television, or conversations with our peers, we’re able to process and understand the unfortunate and traumatic events that have unfolded in one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere.

But what about children — do they truly understand what happened in Haiti? Are they are able to process the horrific events, and if so, how are they affected?

Vicki Hyman of the Star Ledger spoke with Clinical psychologist Monica Indart to help answer those very questions, and to offer parents the proper strategy in how to talk with their children about what happened in Haiti. Indart says that talking to your child in the right manner about what happened to the people of Haiti can do them a lot of good. “Parents can discuss the tragedy in a way that can teach children empathy and even empower them,” writes Hyman.

From the Star-Ledger:

Q. How aware are children of global tragedies that may not touch their families directly?
A. I think, because it is really a global marketplace, kids are much more aware than they were 20 years ago. Schools do a better job of connecting kids with other parts of the world, other situations in the world. It just depends on the family and the schools. I’d be really surprised if kids don’t have some awareness of this.

Q. Can preschoolers or children even younger than that pick up on tragedies like this?
A. The younger the child, the more they’re aware of the emotions of their parents and the people around them. Kids who are younger don’t have a developed language, and they really focus on emotions around them. They can pick up on distress and sadness and anxiety even more so than older kids.

Q. What’s the best way to approach grade-schoolers about this tragedy?

A. In language that’s appropriate for them, explain to them there’s been this disaster, this earthquake, this event that happened in another part of the world, and a lot of people have died, and a lot of people are suffering, and this is where people can, must, do something to help. It’s the first lesson in empathy and aid, and I think parents can use it that way. Do it in small doses. Don’t wait until the child asks you something; be proactive and help your child understand what is happening.

Click here to continue reading Indart’s answers to other questions such as “What would a good conversation starter sound like,” and “Is it a good idea to get youngsters involved in relief efforts?”

Indart recommends the American Psychological Association ( and the Federal Emergency Management Agency ( as two sources that offer tips and strategies on how to help kids deal with disasters.

Does anyone else know of some other resources that can also help children deal with trauma in a healthy way? Please leave us a comment and let us know.

Dr. Indart’s bio:

Monica Indart, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 25 years of experience working in the related fields of crisis intervention, trauma, and grief and loss. Dr. Indart earned her doctorate degree in clinical psychology from the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers University, where she has been a visiting faculty member for the past ten years. She worked as a field operations and clinical supervisor for Project Phoenix, New Jersey’s federally-funded 9/11 response program, for four years, and assisted New Jersey’s Disaster and Terrorism Branch in establishing a disaster crisis counselor certification program.  For the past five years, she has provided consultation and training to the United Nations on issues related to crisis intervention, trauma, grief and loss, and psychosocial support programs for staff on peacekeeping missions.


Written by traumalines

January 26, 2010 at 8:51 pm

4 Responses

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  1. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network is a good resource for parents and professionals. Here is the link to the NCTSN site:

    renee burawski

    January 28, 2010 at 9:03 am

    • Renee,

      Thanks for sharing that link with our readers. NCTSN has a host of great resources, even a quarterly newsletter.

      IF anyone else has any other resources that would benefit our readers, please share them by leaving us a comment.



      January 28, 2010 at 8:57 pm

  2. This was a great article! The tips were very helpful. So glad to see the blog up and running. Great opportunities for professionals in the field to share information!

    Barbara Maurer

    January 28, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    • Hey Barbara,

      Thanks for commenting! We’re glad the article was helpful and informative. Looking forward to hearing from you again soon!



      January 28, 2010 at 9:01 pm

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