Helping Kids Cope with Traumatic Current Events

With current events directly happening around the world, such as the covid crisis and all that comes with it, and the unsettling conflict between Ukraine and Russia, events such as these can trigger anxiety and questions amongst our students.

As an educator, you are often the first point of contact for students when it comes to questions on major current events, and having the knowledge to help alleviate any concerns or spotting signs of anxiousness in students can be a challenge.

Here we outline some advice for ways to give guidance, help and suggest coping techniques for students who may be showing signs of anxiety or a need for support.

Helping Kids Cope with Traumatic Current Events

It can be hard to understand the traumatic events happening in our world. Adults have difficulty making sense of war, loss of life, hate, and the terrible things people can do. Imagine being a 6-year-old child in today’s world and how rapid tragedy comes at you from television, the internet, and your peer group. 

Powell, Wegmann, and Backode (2021) write, “Sudden-onset disasters, such as hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, and terrorist attacks, leave survivors susceptible to adverse mental health outcomes, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.” Children and adolescents are the most vulnerable to psychological and physical health issues because of their lack of life experience. 

Providing mental health support for students is a critical education component. Children are experiencing high levels of constant stress and anxiety in schools and having full community support is important for good health and well-being. 

How adults cope is how children cope

Children watch adults closely and mimic their responses to what is happening (Wheaton College, 2012). If an adult has strong emotions from a world-affecting event, like war, the child will feel the burden. If adults show fear, worry, or hopelessness, so will the student. 

Everyone is affected by traumatic events. It’s essential to take care of your mental health first. In doing so, you will be able to help students address their feelings and emotions more effectively. Speak with other adults (peers, counselors, your spiritual leader, therapist) to help yourself gain perspective and relief. Be mindful of this as you begin helping your students.

"Keeping the parent informed will bring relief and solidify your commitment to helping their student."

Reaching out to parents (or parents reaching out to you)

Parents are the first to notice if their child's behavior has changed or if the child has shut down. You may have gotten a call or an email about a student not being their usual fun self. Thank the parent for letting you know and ask what they’re doing to help their student at home. Support them and inform the parent of the social-emotional lessons you plan to present to students. 

Keeping the parent informed will bring relief and solidify your commitment to helping their student. Skilled parenting (Masten, Barnes 2018) plays an essential factor in the student becoming resilient. War, disease, and societal issues are enormous events that affect people's lives, but it’s important to remember what students deal with on a micro-scale can be just as traumatizing. Bullying, cyberbullying, and friendship dynamics affect the student's mental health also. 

Students will have questions. 

Curious minds ask questions, and it's an admirable quality of children. When they know of problematic situations, they will ask hard questions. 

“Where is daddy?” (Death)

“Why do we have to be quiet in the classroom?” (Lockdown Drill)

“Why are people so mean to each other?” 

Children understand various situations that affect our world. When they ask questions, it's best to provide a simple and straightforward answer (Wheaton College, 2012). Elaborations are not needed for elementary-aged children but would be helpful for middle school-aged kids if needed.

Teachers have to have good communication with their students. Some children may not be able to express themselves in words. Allow them to tell their story or what they’ve experienced in other ways. If it’s too complicated for a student to speak, encourage them to draw a picture or write out what they have endured.

No one likes to feel they have no control of a situation. As stated earlier, children have the same fears as adults. What if the event happens again? What if I lose my mom like I lost my dad? What if I’m left alone? These are questions that many adults ask and have difficulty answering. 

Helping students understand what is happening in their lives allows them to learn ways to cope and move on from the experience. 

" If it’s too complicated for a student to speak, encourage them to draw a picture or write out what they have endured."

How do you talk to your students about a traumatic event?

In 2020, the coronavirus (Covid-19) engulfed the world in fear and anger. Though there have been viruses that have struck large populations over the centuries, this was a new phenomenon for the current generations. Children and adolescents were significantly affected by the virus disrupting their educational processes and usual activities with family and friends.

If students learn that viruses and diseases have disrupted life throughout history, this is a step towards courage in adversity. When the world faces such epidemics, safeguards are put in place to help protect the people and continue life as normal as possible. A history lesson of what has plagued humanity can bring an understanding of what is happening now. The world always survives and moves on. 

How do you deal with traumatizing events?

As with any situation, good or bad, there is an opportunity to gain experience and learn. Traumatizing events are going to happen. Dealing with them is preparation for when the event or something similar happens again. A great resource to guide students in coping with traumatizing events is “How We’ve Changed since 911.” 

How do you talk to your kids about war?

War is never an easy subject to breach with children. It can be even more anxiety-inducing if war is happening in real-time. Giving students the most exact information possible can help them come to terms with war being a recurring theme in history. 

A resource that will help students understand war is "Talking with children about war and violence." 

How can I help my child get over a traumatic event?

Children can experience trauma in different forms. Cyberbullying is one of the problematic realities students have to face. Social media can be an excellent tool for marketing, but it can be a devastating weapon for a child's self-esteem. If the bullying is reoccurring, this can lead to anger, frustration, embarrassment, hate, and isolation. 

Here is a resource for bullying that can be helpful. “Handling Bullying: A Checklist for students.”


Thankfully, children can be highly resilient. Some have short memories; others understand events rapidly and learn valuable lessons, and some discover their inner strength. Unfortunately, some students become fearful of what is happening around them, and some can’t take a step into school. Social-emotional learning is an excellent strategy to help students overcome their fear. 

Over the last two years, stress, anxiety, and depression from world events (and increased local school drama) have permeated our students' lives. The teaching profession has felt this burden more than most. Taking care of yourself and having resources to address students' difficulties can ease some of the extra burden teachers have absorbed. 

For activities and strategies, you can use to support your students to develop essential social-emotional skills, visit our Social-Emotional Learning Hub.

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