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How to Explain the Hillsborough Tragedy to Your Children

Co-authored by Di Stubbs, consultant at Winston's Wish - the charity for bereaved children.

A two year inquest into the deaths of the 96 football fans killed as a result of a crush in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster ended today, with jurors concluding that the all of the 96 involved were killed unlawfully.

With the results of the inquest all over the media, including online, in print and broadcast, and on social media, your children will undoubtedly be asking questions about the tragedy, with some young people amongst the fans that lost their lives. Some children, due to their age, will have no idea of what happened on that day and will be confused.

It is completely natural for parents to want to protect their children from things that are distressing, including the horrifying facts and accounts of what happened in Sheffield in 1989. The impulse for many would be to avoid the conversations, but this can be unhelpful to children. It is important to remember that with their use of social media, children will read about the incident at Hillsborough.

Winston's Wish, the charity for bereaved children, have listened to children, young people and their families on what helps when explaining a tragedy in the news. Here are some key tips from the family service practitioners at the charity on how to explain the Hillsborough tragedy to your children.

Expect children to ask questions

It is completely natural for children to ask questions when incidents like this are being discussed in the media. When high profile events such as this are discussed in the media, young people may temporarily lose their sense of security. They may ask questions such as 'what would happen to me if you were killed?' 'Will this happen to me if I attend a football match?' Try to answer with some solid reassurance, such as:

'We don't expect anything like this will ever happen again. If one of us died for any reason, you would always be looked after by ______ (the other parent/aunt/uncle/granny/family friend). I don't expect to die for a long time yet.'

'Security at football matches has improved tenfold since the Hillsborough tragedy - not many football stadiums still have standing terraces. We will keep you safe.'

Consider children who has been bereaved in the past

Coverage of tragedies in the media can be particularly difficult and poignant for those children who have been bereaved. They can identify with the families of the 96 victims, which can re-trigger their own experience and emotions of grief. Talk to children about how you are feeling and understand their feelings. It is important that they understand that you are finding it hard too.

Stick to facts

Whilst it may be tempting to protect your children from the facts of what happened in 1989, this can in fact be unhelpful for children. It is important to be clear and factually correct when explaining the tragedy to your child so that they aren't confused by what has gone on.

If they ask any questions, answer them truthfully.

Use simple, direct language that a child will understand

Children may become confused by overcomplicated language, so keep any conversations to language that is simple and appropriate to their age. For example: -

'All this news is because something very bad and very sad happened to some people some time ago. What happened is that people died while they watching a football match. It is very unusual that something like this happens. The reason why it is on the news and lots of people are talking about it is because there has been an inquiry into why these people died and what could have prevented it happening. It is very upsetting that something like this could happen and a lot of people are relieved that the truth is out.'

If you have any questions about how to talk to your child about the Hillsborough inquiry or bereavement, please call the Winston's Wish helpline on 08452 03 04 05 or visit You can find Winston's Wish on Twitter and on Facebook.