Fegelein: How to talk to children about tragedy
Special to the Sky-Hi News
There have been many tragic events in the news this past year. Here is what the experts say about discussing such tragedies with children in a way that does not scare or overwhelm them:
Care for Yourself
• Children are influenced by adults’ reactions. First, when possible, ensure that your own needs are met, so that your initial reaction to the tragedy is not in front of children. Seek support from other adults.
• Be aware of your reactions in front of children show them that you can handle crisis.
• Remain calm. Don’t overwhelm children-share your feelings in a way that matches their age and maturity level.
Care for Children
• Provide plenty of verbal and physical love for your child.
• Ask what children know about the event and clarify misinformation.
• Focus on children’s words and feelings without making judgments or recommendations.
• Be available when children need to talk. Be physically and emotionally present as much as possible.
• Stay close. If you must leave, reassure children that they are safe and that you will return.
• Watch for signs of anxiety: physical symptoms, behavioral changes, acting out, reluctance to attend school. If a child is overly stressed, unable to function in regular routines or behaving dangerously, consider consulting a mental health professional.
• Recognize that children of different ages require different methods of communication.
• Reassure children that they did not cause the trauma.
• Maintain regular routines, and assess your child’s anxiety level before resuming out-of-home activities.
• Ensure bedtime is calming.
• Tell children that they are safe, you will protect them, the community is safe, and these incidents are rare.
• Listen. Listen to children’s concerns and do not minimize their fears.
• Encourage children to discuss or express feelings, and help them label feelings if needed.
• Give your child something of yours to hold on to or an object that brings her comfort.
• Discuss safety measures in your home or school if appropriate.
• Limit children’s media exposure of the event, and watch the news with them.
• Provide age-appropriate explanations and answers about the event.
• Encourage children to talk about what they have heard and seen, and how they feel.
• Patiently answer repeated questions and provide consistent answers and information.
• Consider suggesting that upset older children keep a journal; let them know they can share it with you if they wish.
• Younger children can draw pictures about their feelings or act feelings out with puppets.
• Involve children in helpful activities, like writing thank you letters to aid providers.
• Discuss the heroes who help when there is a tragedy. Remind children that there are good people everywhere.
Appropriate guidance and support can help children weather tragedies and grow stronger from the experience. Resources used in this article and more information can be found at:
Sue Fegelein, J.D., is Northwest Rocky Mountain CASA’s Executive Director. NWRM CASA provides volunteer advocates for abused and neglected children, and is always looking for community volunteers. http://www.rockymountaincasa.org
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