What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say to Your Teens About Tragedy

by | Feb 16, 2018 | Resilience When Life is Challenging | 1 comment

I am not a professional expert on this but do have experience talking to and trying to soothe my own kids after violent events. Fortunately my son was too young to remember the Columbine shootings when we were living in Littleton, Colorado, but we lived in New York on 9/11 and they were inside the house when I was held up at gunpoint in our driveway in Johannesburg, South Africa. Violent crime was so common there that the subject of personal safety came up all the time.

After the latest school shooting in the U.S. yesterday, I thought I’d offer some ideas that may help you support your teenagers when you struggle to find words to make sense of senseless acts and to soothe their broken hearts and their worried minds.

Say yes to trauma counseling

Getting support from a professional trauma therapist within 48 hours made all the difference after my robbery. She helped me understand how my natural stress response would play out in my body and mind over the next few days and how to minimize its long-term impact. Positive actions she recommended included exercising to shake off the stress hormones and processing the event mentally and emotionally in a way that made me feel safer sooner. There are other good ideas the therapist can give your child — or you.

See and soothe them

Notice how they’re acting and if they seem more anxious, withdrawn or just different than usual. Try to keep your own fears in check (kids pick up on our energy so fast) and offer whatever helps them feel comforted at home. Soothing for one child might mean talking about what’s bothering them; for another it might mean putting it out of their minds just long enough to play a video game or listen to loud music.

One thing I’ve found with my kids is that they don’t want me to try and fix things, they just want me to be there for them and say, “I understand that it’s awful and I’m so sorry you’re going through it.” They could tell if I needed to feel that they were okay, and that ‘pressure’ would make them want to leave the room. Let them feel bad. At various times I slept in their beds, stayed in their rooms until they fell asleep, or just let them sleep with the light on.

Look for the helpers

There are always more people trying to help than there were people being destructive. As Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Bad SUCKS and feels huge, but good is bigger.

Help them get out of their own heads

When they’re ready, it can help them to get the kind of perspective offered by gratitude, spirituality or volunteering to help someone else — to BE one of the helpers. It can add some meaning to your child’s life and help them expand their focus beyond the incident that triggered their struggling.

Other helpful types of counseling

Ongoing therapy for anxiety or grief might be necessary or helpful. Help them get whatever they need. Processing trauma can be complicated and lengthy.


If tragedy like this has entered your lives, I offer blessings and strength to you and your child. If you have gone through something like this and have suggestions for other parents, please share them in the comments.




Do you need kind, compassionate support to bounce back from a negative experience? If so, then get in touch with me now, and let’s make the most of your precious time, energy and love. 

1 Comment

  1. Cheyenne

    Thanks for writing and sharing this, Kristen. The other thing that comes to mind from a somatic trauma resolution standpoint is to help the kids ( or anyone ) track the sensations in their body that are there for them – simply slow down and notice these. We don’t have to be trained trauma therapists to help one another get into our bodies and simply move the sensations through a bit which are associated with the shock, grief, frustration, etc. It’s another way to get out of our heads and it can greatly aid the body in becoming present again after a challenge. Peter Levine wrote a lovely book called “Trauma-Proofing Your Kids” if one is looking for more somatic reference on this … all love and big cheers to the work of Kristen Carter Coaching!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Kristen Carter

Kristen Carter, Certified coach, author, and breast cancer survivor. More

Self-Love Comes First

Self-Love Comes First

Valentine’s Day can be a wonderful holiday if you’re in a relationship with someone you care for (and who cares for you). But whether you’re in such a partnership or not, there is one person you should love above all others: yourself. “What??” you might ask. “What...

Dealing With Survivor’s Guilt

Dealing With Survivor’s Guilt

Many of us with breast cancer become close friends with others that we meet in support groups, online forums, and through friends. Sadly, some of them pass away, leaving us with grief and, sometimes, survivor’s guilt. Survivor’s guilt is real and we all experience it...

Living Without Regrets

Living Without Regrets

“I wish I’d lived a life true to myself rather than the one others expected of me.” That was the number-one regret expressed by dying people cared for by Australian palliative nurse Bronnie Ware, who worked with hospice patients for almost ten years and who wrote...

Dealing With Breast Cancer-related Weight Gain

Dealing With Breast Cancer-related Weight Gain

As if having breast cancer isn’t bad enough, many women find that they put on unwanted pounds due to the specific treatment they’re on and/or feeling too tired to exercise the way they used to. I am not a metabolism expert but did some research and found that the...

Taming “Scanxiety”

Taming “Scanxiety”

In the same way we can imagine beautiful futures like a cure for cancer and watching our grandchildren thrive, we can imagine the most awful futures: disease progression, painful treatment, devastating side effects, dying. Imagination is a uniquely human capacity,...

Get through this with self-love, a clear focus on what matters most to you, and help from someone who's been there.

Explore what kind, compassionate support can feel like with a no-obligation conversation with me by phone or by Zoom.