Terms & Conditions

Scripts for navigating traumatic events with your kids

Genevieve Muir

Genevieve Muir

Obstetric Social Worker and Parent Educator. Working at the Mater hospital in Sydney and also a mother to four beautiful boys Genevieve is passionate about helping families in Sydney and beyond adapt to the modern parenting world and all its challenges and not only survive but thrive.
Created on Apr 16, 2024 · 7 mins read
Hero Banner

Gen Muir from Connected Parenting shares advice and some age-appropriate scripts for talking to your children about traumatic events.

How do we find the right words to talk to our kids about traumatic events, when we are only making sense of these events ourselves?

Following the Bondi Junction tragedy, many parents are worried about their kids. Especially the little ones who are intuitive, sensitive, and prone to anxiety or deep feelings. You might be wondering, how young is too young to understand? 

The reality is, whether you instigate the conversation or not, most families will be getting questions from their kids. 

There is no right or wrong way to talk to our children about these events. 

It’s about connection, listening to our instincts, and looking for cues from our children about what they need. 

Where do we begin?

For parents who might be looking for some guidance on how to have a conversation about these events, I always think the best place to start is with a question. You might ask your child if they have heard about what happened. If so, what do they already know? Our kids pick up so much of what we put down. They hear and see things, allowing us to start the conversation where they are at and then follow their lead. 

Often, they have already heard something at home or from friends and may be misinformed. By asking what they already know we get an ‘in’ to where we need to start. 

There are a few other things to consider when you have this conversation:

  1. That you are ready to talk. It’s ok if you need a bit of time to process and be ready to talk to your kids in an open way. 
  2. That when you do talk, you can be direct, clear, and give the facts your child needs in an age-appropriate way.

Talking to preschool-aged kids

You may not need to tell your preschooler anything. 

However, if you have a little one who you think is better off finding out from you than others you might say something like:

“Someone hurt some people, a police woman stopped that person, and the doctors are working hard on the people who got hurt. You are safe, and that person can’t hurt anyone else because the police woman stopped him.” 

We limit the facts little kids don’t need because they struggle to sift facts from fiction. 

Little children will always need reassurance that they are safe, and the best way to reassure and connect with them will always be through play. We can even play out their worries with toys and let them explore feelings in a safe way. 

Talking to younger primary school aged kids

As our kids get older, we want them to lead the conversation.

Ask them what they’ve already heard, and if they have anything they want to ask us. 

You may start with:

 “I want to talk to you about something that happened in the world this week at Bondi and it might be a bit hard to hear…. Have you heard anything about this yet?”

It is important we find out what they already know, and be willing to stop and truly listen without being too quick to reassure or simply tell them not to worry. 

Some younger primary school-aged kids will benefit from the same words as used above. However, others may ask you directly “did anyone die?” or “why would someone do this” or “could it happen again?”

These questions are best answered honestly, and directly. 

Talking to older primary, tweens, and teens

We need to be ready to tell them what happened, sticking to facts. 

As much as we want to shield our older kids,  it’s so much better for them if we answer their questions directly. You might say:

 “I’m wondering if you’ve overheard dad and I talking about what happened at Bondi this weekend? Or have your friends mentioned anything?”

Older kids may connect this event to other events they have experienced in the past. It may feel to them that the world is now full of events like this. They may need us to reassure them with facts that this is not a common event –  that there are many laws and policies in place in Australia that keep us safe.  

We also need to give older kids  space to process this information. You can do this by being curious, wanting to know more, and saying less but using your body to show you are listening. 

The other thing to know is that kids will mostly communicate that they are worried, sad, or need us through their behaviour. 

Our job is to be curious in the coming weeks. 

Many kids process the information when we tell them completely fine, but then we notice they are crankier, or struggling with transitions at bedtime; hinting that they need help to process these underlying feelings. 

This might sound like: “I know you are having a hard time sharing with your sister … and I’m also wondering if you are still thinking about what we spoke about earlier?” 

What about if our child tells us they are scared, sad, or heartbroken?

It’s not easy to hear our child saying they are worried or sad without trying to make it ok, (and I can promise you, it never gets easier.) 

One of the best things you can say to any child who tells you they feel sad or worried about things they’ve been told about these events is to say two words: “Thank you.”

“Thank you so much for telling me you can’t stop thinking about this. I am so glad you came to me.” 

This gives us a beat to process, might keep us away from simply dismissing or telling our kids they have nothing to be worried about, and have us more likely to allow their feelings by saying: 

 “It makes sense to have emotions about this. I feel really sad too” 

This lets your child know that they are not alone in their feelings. It allows them to start to process them, and best of all it keeps the door open to talking about emotions in the long run. 

When we allow our kids’ emotions, it requires us to be open and vulnerable. It’s hard to do but it can then lead to conversations about what we can do to help, even in a small way. 

It can build empathy for the lives of others, which is perhaps the most important emotion to hope for in a well-raised adult. 

Signs of trauma in children

Recognising the signs of trauma in children is crucial for early intervention and support. Keep an eye out for the following red flags:

  • Changes in behavior: Withdrawal, aggression, or clinginess.
  • Physical symptoms: Headaches, stomachaches, or trouble sleeping.
  • Emotional reactions: Mood swings, tearfulness, or sudden outbursts.
  • Regression: Reverting to earlier behaviors, such as bedwetting or thumb-sucking.
  • Avoidance: Avoiding places, activities, or conversations related to the traumatic event.

If you notice any of these signs in your child, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Early intervention can make a significant difference in your child’s ability to cope and recover from trauma.

Seek support

Here is a list of resources that may be of assistance to both you and your children, as provided to the community from the NSW Department of Education following the Bondi Junction tragedy.

Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800

A free, confidential service that provides online or phone counselling for children and young people.

Mental Health Line –1800 011 511

A 24/7 phone line staffed by mental health professionals that can direct individuals to local support services.

13YARN – 13 92 76

Free crisis counseling support for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Headspace – 1800 650 890

A local mental health support service for young people and their families, with a focus on early intervention.

Lifeline – 13 11 14

24-hour crisis support for people experiencing a crisis or suicidal distress.

Q Life – 1800 184 527

Anonymous and free peer support for the LGBTIQ+ community.

Follow us on
Loved this article?
Share with a friend

Hey parents!


Get paid to review the latest brands and products