4 Things for Parents to Consider in the Wake of Tragedy

This week, a 51-year-old public bus driver drove his bus into a nursery school, killing two young children and injuring six others in Laval, Quebec. Apparently, he led a discrete life and did not have any priors. His history of mental illness is yet unknown. This traumatic event will have repercussions for children, parents and communities and we would like to attempt to guide our community through this difficult time. So, we have put together 4 key things for parents to consider in the wake of tragedy.

1. What are signs that my child is struggling with this news?

Regression. Children often do not display trauma symptoms like adults and may appear “normal.” Despite this, signs of regression include sudden baby talk, return to sucking thumb, peeing the bed, more than usual tantrums, etc.


More than usual difficulty with regulation around transitions like bedtime or parent-child separation. Is your child refusing to roll with change, obsessing about death, having difficulty sleeping or getting anxious at drop-off? These could be signs that your child is not coping well in the wake of this news.


Repetitive play. Children use play to understand and give meaning to their lives. Is your child ramming their toy truck into things, or replaying storylines with themes like death, violence, bad-guy hurting kids, etc.? These could be signs that your child is attempting to wrap their head around this tragedy.


Daydreaming and difficulty concentrating. It is not unusual for nervous systems to shut down when under stress. So, if you see your child showing more difficulty than usual in concentration, please be aware that this may be a sign of distress.

2. My kid is talking about this event. What should I say?

Step 1. Check that your child has the right facts by gently asking them to repeat what they have heard and/or know about what happened.


Step 2. Ask them how they feel. If they share, thank them for sharing how they feel, agree with them if you feel the same. Assure them that uncomfortable feelings are normal around times like these. And don’t move too quickly into fixing their upset.


Step 3. Ask them if they have any questions about this tragedy. Some children may not understand why bad things happen to innocent people, or may need to understand the difference between death and murder. Please do not use explanations like “the children went to sleep in the sky” as we have seen children develop phobias of sleep and/or the sky. Instead, it’s best to use simple words like “two kids were murdered, which is when one person hurts another person so bad that they die.”


Step 4. If necessary, do something concrete with them like write a card for the families impacted, or say a prayer together, or plan an action with them like a fundraiser to help them feel agency around this event. If the child is more introverted, you may offer them a journal to write in.

3. Should I speak to my kid about the news in case they find out about it at school? If so, how do I talk to different aged kids about this?

It depends. All children need to know that when something bad happens in the world, nothing that they did/said/thought had anything to do with it. However, if your child is between the ages of 0-6, you may consider whether they know about death yet, and/or whether they already have an anxious or dysregulated disposition. If so, then exercise your best judgment. If you choose to bring it up and your child is between 7 and 10 years-old, you may want to use short sentences with concrete words (see 2. Step 3). Between, 11 and 13 years-old and up, you may want to sense your child’s needs. If they want to start talking about what happens after death and engage in more complex discussions, then you may want to have thought about what you believe and be able to briefly explain it.  

4. I am super affected by this news. What should I do?

If you are struggling, it’s entirely understandable and human. It may be important to talk about it to another trusted adult and/or a professional. As a parent, we recommend that you lead with reassurance first and make sure that your non-verbals (posture, facial expression, gestures) communicate to your child that this is a tragic and very unusual event AND that they are safe.

If you and/or your child(s) are showing signs of trauma around this news, you are not alone. We are here to help.

Grey Zone: 514-900-4922 or visit us at www.greyzonewellness.com

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