Six Suggestions to Help Them Absorb and Understand
When horrible things happen, like the recent Nashville school shootings, it can be incredibly difficult to comprehend for any of us. Whether it’s caused by people or nature, as a caregiver or parent of a neurodivergent child who may process information differently, you might struggle with how best to help them through these kinds of challenges.
Here are six tips for talking with neurodivergent kids about tragic events:
1. Tailor to them
Don’t hide information, but choose what to share, and how much. Tailor the level of detail you provide to their age and developmental level. For example, you might explain that a hurricane has caused damage to a city, but avoid discussing the death toll or graphic images.
2. Use concrete examples
Neurodivergent children may struggle with abstract concepts, so it can be helpful to use visuals to explain the situation. For example, you might use pictures or diagrams to show how a hurricane forms or explain how earthquakes happen using a model. When it comes to violence caused by humans, like wars or school shootings, focus on the context like a map showing the location.
3. Listen and validate
Neurodivergent children may have intense emotions in response to tragic events. It’s important to listen to their concerns and validate their feelings without making them feel there’s a “right” or a “wrong” response. Let them know that it’s okay to feel scared, sad, or confused and that you’re there to support them. Simply saying “I hear you” or “I understand” without trying to offer solutions can be helpful.
4. Provide reassurance
Tragic events can make children feel unsafe or worried about their own safety. Reassure them that you will do everything you can to keep them safe and that many people are working to help those who have been affected by the event.
5. Use social stories
Social stories can help children understand and cope with tragic events. Social stories are short narratives that explain a situation and provide guidance on how to respond. You might create a social story that explains what a hurricane is and what to do if one is coming.
6. Limit exposure
Constant exposure to news and media coverage of a tragic event can be overwhelming and upsetting. Limit their exposure to news and media coverage (especially social media), and provide age-appropriate explanations if they do see or hear something that upsets them.
Talking with neurodivergent children about tragic events can be tough, especially because you’re also processing the information and working through your own emotions. Even if you worry whether you’re “doing it right,” know that your love and support can make a world of difference to a child who is struggling to make sense of a tragic event.