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Avoiding Child Trauma:Tips for Helping Children Cope with Tragic Events and Disasters


It could be a disaster, tragic event, a blizzard, a hurricane.  It may require explaining to children what it means, or taking steps to ease stress and possible child trauma.

Family Service of RI is the state site for the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and specializes in issues involving child trauma.

Logo for the National Child Traumatic Stress Network



We have compiled some helpful tips to help parents respond to various situations.

During weekdays, if you would like to speak with experts about specific issues, please call our intake office at 401-519-2280.

With the recent concern regarding Ebola, we have assembled a special page with links to a range of resources on various topics.  You may access that page here.

Tips for Parents and Caregivers Regarding Media Coverage of Traumatic Events

These days, the media are everywhere and often provide 24/7 coverage of traumatic events.

For a tip sheet regarding how to manage your child's exposure to the media during coverage of traumatic events, please click here.

Tips for Educators after Community Trauma

Tips for educators after school violence, natural disasters or other traumatic events are available here.

In the Wake of the Community Threats in October, 2014 in Johnston, Warwick and Cranston

Parents may be wondering how to speak with their children regarding threats being made in several Rhode Island communities. Family Service of Rhode Island suggests:

1) Reassure children they are safe.

2) Make time to talk.

3) Keep your explanation developmentally appropriate.

These tips are from a sheet provided by the National Association of School Psychologists.

For tips specifically for parents and caregivers regarding media coverage of traumatic events, please click here.

Tips for educators regarding helping youth after community trauma are available here.

In the Wake of the Circus Accident in Providence

As reported in the Providence Journal, "audience members who witnessed the accident can call the Disaster Distress Hotline 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. Hearing impaired individuals may call 1-800-846-8517. The hotline is operated by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration."

Family Service of Rhode Island is also making staff available for counseling, information or advice on speaking with a child in the wake of this tragedy.  Please call 401-331-1350 and ask for "Intake."

The following are media interviews with Family Service of Rhode Island staff concerning how to speak with children in the aftermath of the accident: NBC 10 News and The Rhode Show on Channel 12 WPRI. In addition, the Dan Yorke Show on 630 WPRO.

Also, please see "Other Community Tragedies" below.

In the Wake of the Boston Marathon Bombings

Tipsheet for speaking with children in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Parent guidelines for helping teens in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Other Community Tragedies

When a sad, tragic event takes place, many parents may have questions about how to talk to their children about what happened.

While such events do not occur every day, when a tragedy happens it is important to remember that it can bring up issues for children who have been previously traumatized and can frighten and confuse children in general.

Tips for dealing with and talking to children:

  • Limit exposure to media sources and be aware that children are always listening. Information that is not developmentally appropriate can confuse children or make them feel anxious. For a tip sheet specifically about managing media exposure of a traumatic event, please click here.
  • Make time to talk. If children are asking questions about the event reassure them that  they are safe. Allow them to discuss their feelings and respond in a developmentally appropriate way.  
  • Be aware of talking about the event around your children. Keep adult conversations about the situation for adults ears only.
  • Maintain regular routines with children.
  • Be aware of your child’s mood. Ask questions if they do not seem to be themselves. Even if you think you have protected them from the media they may have heard things from their peers. It is important to be aware of their feelings and respond to fears if they have them.

Some links that may be helpful:

--The website for the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Photo of Dr. Susan Erstling, head of Family Service of RI's child trauma and loss center.--The head of Family Service of  RI's child trauma and loss center, Dr. Susan Erstling, has conducted a number of interviews in the wake of tragedies. Please read a GoLocal Prov interview here. An NBC 10 interview is available by clicking here. Rhode Island Public Radio also did a story with Dr. Erstling as did The Rhode Show.

--A guide to parenting in a challenging world.


--A tipsheet for speaking with children about death and services is available here.

More information en español and other languages.                  

Power Outages

We hope when the power goes out, it's just for a few moments. But too often Rhode Islanders have been losing power for days or longer.

Here are some tips for helping children and adolescents cope during power outages even if you don't have supplies.

Tip #1  Tip #2   Tip #3  Tip #4