Just a few months ago, our nation faced a terrible tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, and yesterday another senseless act of terror occurred in Boston.
Dr. Joy Granetz, a psychologist at Child and Family Development's South Charlotte office, shares her thoughts again on how to help children cope with tragedy:
How do you explain the unexplainable? While there are never simple answers to complex questions, here are a few suggestions that may guide your responses to your young children as they ask some very difficult questions.
Do Talk About What's Happening
Our priority at this time must be to make our children feel as safe and secure as possible and to help them to manage their distress. It is important to talk to your children about their feelings. The depth of the conversation will be dependent on your child's age or developmental level and their unique personalities.
Put Feelings Into Words
It is important that they feel comfortable talking about their feelings and fears. Encourage them to express their ideas and thoughts and validate their feelings, even if there are no answers (e.g., You feel sad for the families affected; You feel scared; Senseless violence is hard for everyone to understand). Encourage your children to put their feelings into words by talking about them or writing them down. If your child is inclined, encourage them to express their feelings through art. Try to keep your answers to their questions developmentally appropriate. As a general guideline, keep it brief and simple and be sure to include reassurances of their safety.
Limit News Consumption
In our 24-hour news culture, it is hard to keep kids shielded from the news, but try to limit exposure to media to the best of your ability. Turn off the TV, do not leave the scary headlines of the newspaper for all to see, monitor computer usage. These healthy limits may benefit not only the children in the household, but the adults, as well.
Take Care of The Caretaker
We have all heard flight attendants tell us that in the event of an emergency, put on our oxygen masks first. In a similar vein, it will be important for parents to take care of their own emotional health and well being in light of the recent tragedy. Children are seeking a sense of safety and parents can serve as models for how to cope under times of stress and adversity and be resilient. Be sure to regulate your own emotions and behavior in front of your children. Try to maintain your regular schedules and family routines, as they will provide a sense of comfort and consistency for your child. Keep home a peaceful place and enjoy precious family time during the holiday season.
Resources for Helping Children Cope with Tragedy
If your child seems to be emotionally overwhelmed, consider consulting with a professional who may be able to help you and your child to develop coping resources and self soothing strategies to manage anxiety and emotional distress. The team at Child and Family Development is ready to help.
- The National Association of School Psychologists -- Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers
- The National Association of School Psychologists -- A National Tragedy: Helping Children Cope
- American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry – Children and Grief