Talking to Your Children About Tragedy

Recent community tragedies have touched many of us, and left us heartbroken.
Even harder still, is talking to our children about it.
Here is an article I wrote several years ago that may help, and can applied whether this recent tragedy or natural disasters or other things children hear about on the news.

Here are 10 tips for talking to your children about tragedy:

Start where they are. What your children understand about what has happened will depend on their proximity to the event, exposure to news or social media covering the event, and the responses of the adults around them. One mom kept it at her child’s level by asking her son directly what he had heard about a school shooting, then talking with him about just these things and answering only his specific questions.

Gauge your own response. Usually, if the parent stays calm then the children will also stay calm. If the parent identifies specific coping skills, the children will use them as well. A father modeled emotional expression for his son by crying after a fire destroyed a nearby home, but also finding ways to volunteer.

Acknowledge fears, but counter them. Children may worry that a shooter will come to their school, too, or jump every time there is lightning because it might mean another tornado. Verbalize those fears, but also counter them with facts. One father pointed out that school shootings are rare, and another father reminded his children that not every thunderstorm brings a tornado.

Process with other adults. Before talking to your children, process your own emotional response with other adults. If you were more directly affected, modeling healthy grieving and mourning together is appropriate and healthy. One group of moms met for breakfast every week after a school shooting, working to keep their emotional needs separate from the emotional needs of their children.

Reassure safety. Talk about safety in a neutral way or even fun way. One grandmother role played with younger children, making safety planning fun and giving them practice without making it frightening. The older children helped brainstorm escape routes, ways to call for help and safety items needed for a storm.

Follow the child’s pace. One mom let her children express themselves as they always have: playing outside, creating artwork, making music or playing games. Family dinners foster moments for good communication, and long walks or hikes give time and space for children to bring up issues they want to share. Physical movement and creative expression are excellent ways for children to process trauma, both emotionally and physiologically.

Normalize daily structure as best you can. Maintaining structure and routine as much as possible will help children feel safe and comfortable. Helping children maintain function will empower them to express their own emotions, process their own responses, and cope with the layers of feelings and thoughts they have as the world around them changes. One couple realized that funerals usually follow the death of a loved one, so they took their children with them to a funeral as a normal part of mourning. This helped the children participate in their own grieving process.

Watch for regression, but don’t expect it. Children struggling with anxiety or overwhelming emotions often regress in developmental areas. They may begin bedwetting again, or lose their toilet training or become clingy with parents. They may want to sleep with siblings or in the parents’ bed or need the nightlight like they did years ago. These are signs the child needs more help and opportunity to express her emotional response, and increased structure and normalized routine may also help. Some changes in eating and sleeping patterns, concentration levels and topic of conversation are expected and will settle down over time.

Turn off the media, even social media. It is one thing to watch the news to know the path of a storm or prepare appropriately for shelter; it’s another thing to constantly stare at repeated images of the aftermath. A single mom watched the media carefully so her family could be prepared, but after obtaining the information she needed, turned on a movie and made popcorn. This way her children were well-informed and calmly prepared, rather than anxious and in crisis mode.

Respond actively. Finding ways to help with cleanup efforts after a natural disaster may help children feel powerful and in control, making a positive contribution to their community. Delivering flowers or stuffed animals to local children affected by a school shooting helps children not involved in the tragedy find a way to respond directly to what they witnessed. Writing a note to a child displaced because of a tragedy is a way to be a friend. Volunteering at a local agency or for a church service project can help people far away from the tragedy still contribute something positive.

Children look to us for safety, comfort and modeling of healthy emotional expression. Talking with them about tragedies and teaching them how to cope are vital parts of raising them well. Helping each other is a part of mourning together, and we grieve because we loved so much.


Emily Christensen, Ph.D., author of Keeping Kyrie, lives with her husband in Oklahoma, where she works as a counselor and a chaplain. Their six special needs children were adopted from foster care, and you can follow their story on or on Instagram @housewifeclass.
Her Ph.D. is in Marriage & Family Therapy, her M.S. in Professional Counseling, her M.Div. in Pastoral Counseling, and her B.S. in Human Development, and she is pursuing a third degree in Hebrew & Jewish studies. Her blog is, and her email is

Homeschool Arts

Today in art, we learned about charcoal pencils:

Anber is home now, too, starting kindergarten, she says.  So we continued her work she always does on Saturdays and days they are out of school yet.

It’s also good to be home listening to them practice!

Kirk is even figuring out piano with one hand!

I love these kids!  Barrett is even have a much better week (since I have been home, of course, so, yeah, all that is on me), and Kyrie was well enough to return to her friends at school.  I’m so glad, and having such good days is so healing for all of us.

Bat Girl

My hours of chaplaincy ended today with grief, as is often the case, but the purpose this time was making meaning and finding purpose in what is most important.

I was asked the question, “if your house was on fire, and you could only grab three things, what would you take?”

Choosing Nathan is easy enough, but that leaves two things and I have six children.

Six children and not enough arms.

Nathan, I say, and my girls and my boys.

Does that work?  Can that count? Is it cheating? Does it matter?

And if they are what is most important in my life, then when am I always leaving without them?

This season of working a job while finishing residency has been very hard on all of us.  I think getting a nanny is the only reason Nathan is actually still alive.  But throwing a new adult into the mix has stirred up the worst in all the children, and only proved to us that their attachment was healing and growing only because we were doing it all ourselves.

The good news? It means we really are making a difference.

The bad news?  Nothing really can replace that.

Even for free.

It’s the little things, as it turns out, that mean everything.  

Our relationships are built through the experiences that annoy and exhaust and frustrate us, just as much as the things that please and refresh and nurture us.

We need each other, and nothing replaces that.

So in the end, the great nanny experiment, which everyone always told us we needed, didn’t work for us at all.  It took an entire month of background checks and interviews to even find one for keeps, and then we still went through three to find one who showed up most of the time but not always.  The best time saving use was for helping with transportation,  and if we had a reliable one on time we would still use a nanny for some of that.

Our favorite, though, was just getting babysitters for going out on dates without the children.

Except they were terrible every time, so it wasn’t much fun and too high a price to pay.

So while something different may work for your family, what works for our family is just doing it on our own, however exhausting, and enjoying date nights at home for this season of young children.

Because it is true, in fact, that date nights are non-negotiable.

I learned all of this, and sorted through all of this, mostly to avoid dealing with a little girl who can’t quite stay well.  The good days are so good, but the sick days are so sick.  All that while the other five are the exact same way, except with attachment and behavior.

Regardless, my season of finishing chaplaincy is coming to a close, and my time of letting go of death is here.  I must leave the presence of my parents and return to my own family, who are very much alive.

My peace comes in aligning myself with the will of God: keeping His commandments and living according to His laws, caring First and foremost for my family, and having faith even in the grace and mercy that are part of the plan.

I had a rough day emotionally, in part because my children were struggling, in part because my husband battles depression (which he is very open about so I am not telling anything he doesn’t share himself), and in part because some days it feels like the more I try to do to help the more everyone is in crisis.

Because they don’t need me to do anything.

They just need me.

So tonight, when I had to leave for work, I threw myself into the To Do list waiting for me, and then sought out the Chapel for respite and reflection.

Except someone stomped in and whisked on all the lights and nearly blinded me.

Too much.  Too loud.  Too bright.

Story of my life.

So I slipped out and found a bench in a busy hallway, in the middle of chaos where I always seem to be, and took off my ears and sat here and wrote this until I could breathe again.

Because I can’t save the world.

I can’t even save me.

But I can be me.

But only if I breathe.

Feeling the Stomp of Life

Because I am Deaf, I feel all the things you cannot hear.

Before we had children, I felt Nathan crawl into bed with plans to talk and tangle, but now he falls into bed for safety and escape.

Before we had children, he left me slowly, begrudgingly, unwittingly.
Now he jolts alert, heart pounding, reacting to a scream I felt as something – or someone – that fell heavily to the floor… or worse, to check on our baby who doesn’t breathe while the other children stand still and unmoving.

When I steal silence in a bath of bubbles, I know which child waits for me in the hall by how they bounce, jump on the floor, lean against the shelf, bang on the door, or sticks their fingers underneath.

When we play hide and seek, and the children try to cheat by taking my ears away, I can still feel their giggles through the walls and see their hunched shapes under blankets.

So they take tinker toys and cover my eyes, which turns the game into a monster chase that sends them all squealing into the backyard.

When my blankets rustle with the tug of a toddler climbing up…

When the kitchen rattles from things knocked down by a preschool dancer…

When the playroom rumbles with the tumbling of Lincoln logs…

When the carpet feels like the pat-pat-thump of a one weak-legged child trying to walk our balance beam…

When the soccer ball comes soaring through the back door, past my shoulder, and bounces off the table…

When little handles comb fingers through my hair pulled into makeshift ponytails…

When my eternal companions plops down playfully instead of collapsing…

That feels like a good day, and I am glad to be home, even for a little while.

Kyrie’s Kids

What we don’t talk about are all the children that couldn’t stay with us.

What we don’t talk about are all the times we said no.

What we don’t talk about is the little girl with multiple handicaps that we were first “offered” when we very first started fostering, who passed away before our home had the paperwork to get going.

What we don’t talk about is the little baby girl who was born with half a heart, whose doctors called us a year ago to see if we could adopt her before she died.

What we don’t talk about is the little baby boy we got called about this week, the one who was born with a too small head and no folds in his brain.

What we don’t talk about are all the ghosts of faces we see that we cannot help.

We cannot help them because our house is full.

We cannot help them because we are mortal, and exhausted.

We cannot help them because the special needs of our own children are already so expensive.

We cannot help them because our time is spent earning money to care for these children, and our free time is spent playing with the little ones we made promises to already.

We cannot help them because there is just me and Nathan, and sometimes a nanny, and everyone in the community who helped us so much is about tired of rescuing us because we tried to rescue these.

We cannot help them because, because, because.

Except we can.

We don’t need to adopt every single baby in the world.

We don’t need to bring home every single medical fragile child we encounter.

We don’t need to keep every single little one the rest of the world rejects.

But we do need to do something.

There should be a safe place that an abandoned infant could go to die, instead of dying alone in the hospital.

There should be a safe place that a medically fragile child could be properly cared for until a brave family could be found.

There should be a safe place that sick children who are “difficult to place” could go to receive therapy and be stimulated and receive nurturing and love while waiting for their forever families, instead of being stuck in the hospital by default, sometimes for years.

That’s what we can do, even when we can’t be a family for every single one, we could be a place.

We can use our experiences from Seven Lively Arts, our experiences from fostering, our parenting skills, our newly gained medical skills, our fantabulous resources of excellent therapists and nurses and doctors, and all the contacts we have gained through the book and through advocating these recent years and three houses when we only need to live in one…. all of it suddenly makes sense.

All of these random pieces that have slowly pulled together over time, and then exponential-ized since the book, and the platform responsibility we now have, plus new secret warriors who have the missing pieces I needed, and suddenly it’s all coming together.

We are going to start an agency, for group homes for medically fragile children.

I’m not kidding.

We are going to call it Kyrie’s Kids.

That’s what we are going to do.  I already have the paperwork from the state to fill out, and the contacts I need, and the friends who are willing to help and full of ideas, and resources to get started, and plans to make as soon as Nathan wakes up and finds out about all this in the morning.

But it’s happening, you guys.

We’re opening a group home.

Mom Visits

While Kyrie was being sick, and Nathan was playing violin at a funeral, the second graders were in town for bio-mom visits.

Kirk got to have lunch with his mom:

And we tracked down Mary’s mom, who is often homeless and whom she hasn’t seen in over a year, but we managed to catch her walking around downtown to a nearby park:

She offered to buy our Bartlesville house for half a million dollars.

We told her that was a deal.  SOLD!

It was rough seeing Mary’s mom, and what addiction can do.  She showed Mary some shiny jewelry and put something sparkly in her hair.  Mary responded by asking her why she steals things with a boyfriend who hurts her, instead of getting a job to buy some new teeth.


But she says she is trying, and getting help from relatives, and I hope it is true.

Kirk’s mom seems to be doing great!  She is clean and sober and holding down a job, and we are so proud of her.  They enjoyed ordering their lunch from her, which the kids thought was very cool, and I hope the hugs will brighten Kirk’s spirits.

We could not have done today without the help of our nanny,  Shawn, and I am so grateful.

New Video: Rush Review (Sponsored Post)

Got history?!

The children were asked by Rush Limbaugh​ to review his children’s history book series Rush Revere!

We have two sets of the books and one set of audiobooks to give away to someone who likes, comments, and shares this video on our Facebook Page for Keeping Kyrie!

That’s three winners for this giveaway!

Watch to the very end for a surprise Kyrie appearance, and then comment on why your family needs this set of books!

Homeschool: Science Friday

We played with Microscopes today!

The children gathered all kinds of tiny things from the backyard, and lined up to take a peak:

We loved how ordinary things we love, like flowers and dirt and weeds and pine needles look so magical close up!

It was maybe one of the best parenting moments ever, to see their little faces in awe and excitement of what they discovered!

We even introduced some stains and prepared slides, too:

But all of that just made them want to see more, so we found some leaves and bits of ribbon, too:

They did a great job on their reports!

Next time we will look at ingredients from the kitchen!