Saturday, December 15, 2012

How to talk to your kids after a tragedy

So there was this terrible shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut yesterday. This is clearly a tragic event and I cannot fathom what it must have been like to have been involved with it in any way. Certainly it pales in comparison to the 20,000 kids who starve to death every single day in the world (that no one seems too concerned about), but regardless of numbers this is something that is going to garner a lot of press and have a lot of people talking. So... what do we do?

Certainly we need to try to keep things in perspective. This happened at one school, in one town, in one state, in one country. For most of the world it did not happen anywhere near us, so we don't need to worry about it happening in our backyard tomorrow. We also need to keep in mind that news shows are trying to gain as many viewers as possible and, while very well-intentioned (maybe), they're going to try to make it even more dramatic than it already was. So I would suggest limiting our exposure to news reports even as adults.

My concern here is for how to talk to kids though. I am no expert, but for the few dozen people who read here who may have small children, I just gathered up a few articles that I think offer some good advice.

- The Reverend Christopher Smith offered seven suggestions for speaking to children after a tragedy. You can read the article by clicking through the link, but his seven suggestions are:
  • Pay attention (to your children's behavior)
  • Limit exposure (to the news and other adults talking about it)
  • Promise safety
  • Be honest (answer their questions, but don't necessarily give them answers to questions they're not asking)
  • Spend time together
  • Use your faith
  • Take care of yourself
- Kidpower offered these suggestions for Helping Children Regain Their Emotional Safety After a Tragedy (again, you can read the article through the link):
  • Stay calm
  • Take charge of what children hear and see from the media
  • Explain what happened in a calm, age-appropriate way
  • Help young people to express their feelings without making them take care of your feelings
  • Give young people positive ways to feel in control
  • Give extra support and reassurance
  • Be aware of and prepared for behavioral changes
  • Be a good role model for handling conflict
  • Show children how to recover from a bad situation

- AARP offered a nice, short article. They say...
Keep your descriptions to children simple and limit their exposure to graphic information. Keep to the basic facts that something bad happened but that they are safe. Use words they can understand and avoid technical details and terms such as “smoke grenades” and “sniper.”

Limit their access to television and radio news reports since young children may have trouble processing the enormity of the experience, and sometimes believe that each news report may be a new attack.

- And our own local news (www.incnow.tv, Fort Wayne) offered this advice from a local clinical psychologist: “first of all, listen to them and listen to what they are asking. And don't give them any more information than they're asking. Some kids can't handle a whole lot of information."

 She also adds...
When we exhibit disasters like we saw this morning, our natural reaction is to try to find answers to questions like "why" and "how" this happened. But when it comes to coping with our children sometimes just being there to support them helps the most... Let them know you're there for them, you're going to be there in the morning, you're going to be there if they wake up scared in the middle of the night, you're going to be there when they get home from school.

So, there is some basic info and a few things to keep in mind. Peace and blessings to you.