Talking to your child or adolescent about crisis — Guidance for parents and legal guardians

This guidance provides advice on how to approach conversations about crisis with children and young people from 3 – 18 years.

At a time of crisis children and young people need reassurance and to feel safe. As parents, we may too feel anxious and while wishing to shield our children, they are often aware of the tensions around them. Talking about events can make feelings seem more manageable and less overwhelming.  

Coping with fear  

Allowing your child to express their fears and concerns helps them to feel understood and offers an opportunity to learn how to deal with the emotions these fears raise. They might be wondering: 

  • Will I be okay? 
  • Will you be okay? 
  • Will everyone I love be okay? 
  • Will the world be okay? 

Listen and respond - soothe and reassure - shared action

Listen and respond

  • Start the conversation rather than wait for your child to approach you. Try to be calm and in a quiet comfortable space. 
  • A good place to begin is by finding out what your child already knows, listening to what they want to say. 
  • Be open to the tensions your child might be feeling and listen to their concerns and feelings without pressure. 
  • Give them time to ask the questions they have and answer as honestly as possible, calmly sticking to the facts. Avoid predictions of what might or might not happen in the future. 
  • Avoid statements that might lead to anger or stigma against others and encourage compassion. 

Soothe and reassure

  • Reassure your child that things will get better, that you are there for them and they are safe. 
  • Share your own feelings and ways you reassure yourself. 
  • Point out the people who are helping others and professionals who are providing care.  
  • End your conversations with care, so your child knows they can continue to share their feelings. Check in regularly but follow your child’s cues rather than continually raising the events. 

Shared action

  • Maintain routines and normal life as far as possible, and spend time doing pleasurable things together. 
  • Limit media coverage of upsetting events restricted and be cautious of the language you use when talking about events in the presence of your child. You know best how much information is enough for your child. Older children or adolescents might want to watch media together with you. 
  • Explore means of self-care together with your child, such as mindfulness and breath techniques. 
  • Children and young people often respond to a crisis with wanting to help others. You can explore ways they can take action individually, as a family or at with others at school or in your community.

Identifying the signs of stress in children and adolescents  

Children and adolescents react differently to stress. They might not be able to express it in words, and it can come out in their behaviour instead. The below examples of possible indications of this.  

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  • Young children might:  

    • show agitation, hyperactive behaviour or acting out  
    • be clingy, moody or cry often  
    • be quick to anger or startle  
    • seek attention or reassurance from adults they trust  
    • be forgetful and have difficulty focusing  
    • show sleep and appetite changes  
    • have stomach or headaches  
  • Older children and young adults might:  

    • show anxiety,  
    • have a depressed mood  
    • undertake fewer pleasurable activities  
    • act more independent than usual  
    • withdraw socially  
    • complain of stomach or headaches  

If you find your child is continuing to exhibit these signs or if you feel the behaviour is worsening or interfering with home, school or friendships, reach out for help straightaway. Contact your doctor or ask your school for advice on where to get help. 

Talk to your child’s teacher(s) 

If you have concerns about your child, make sure you share this with their teachers. It is likely that conversations are also happening at school among peers and you can help ensure your child has consistent, supportive messages. 

Remember to make space and time to listen and respond, soothe and reassure and take shared action. 

Additional resources 

Supporting younger children in a crisis (English)

Supporting adolescents in a crisis (English)  

Picture books for resilience — with guides (English) 

Understanding mental health (English and Spanish)