As an adult, it is almost impossible to make sense of last Friday’s senseless killing of young, innocent lives. So, just imagine how children feel that hear about this. They attend schools and this tragedy seems to a child to be very possible in their school. While security has been stepped up, and administrations are tightening the reigns, school children simply don’t understand this. The best security in the world does not make children feel safe, but it is our words that can console and calm fears.
I would like to take a moment and focus on how to talk to your children. It is important to provide children with answers they need, without offering more than is needed or instituting more fear in them. I don’t claim to be an expert in counseling or psychiatric therapy, but I am a health care provider and most importantly a mother. I will share insight to how I talked to my children about this senseless loss of life, in an environment that is real to my children.
1) Shelter your children from how much information they are receiving about this tragedy. My children have heard some information, but we have not watched the numerous reports of this tragedy. We have chosen to turn the channel or turn the TV off when news comes on. Children, especially young children, live in a very concrete world. By watching hours of reports, it becomes very real to children. So, shelter their minds.
2) Remember to consider the developmental level of your child. Children under the age of 8 or 9 may not understand abstract concepts like death. When speaking with younger children, remember to emphasize that they are safe and cared for. Be sure to include the facts when asked in a simple way, even if that seems hard for the child to hear. Explain these facts in as warm and supportive a framework as you can; for instance, with reassurances that you are going to be there for them. With older children, it is appropriate to give more information.
3) Allow your children to ask question. Even if your children seem to understand what happened, remind them that they can ask you questions any time. Many times, children take some time to process tragic events, and will not ask about them until later. Remind them that questions are okay.
4) Structure for children is comforting. One of the things that most help children through tragic loss is a continuity of family structure and tradition. If at all possible, continue to do the things your family usually does—whether these are mealtimes, special games, or involvement in religious or cultural groups. While children need to have the tragedy acknowledged, they also need to know that the world will go on.
5) Children express grief differently than adults. Don’t necessarily expect children to display their grief through tears or sadness. Often, children show their grief through anger and disobedience. If you see this happening, it helps to sit down with your child and let your child know that it’s okay to feel upset about the tragedy. Many times, children don’t know why they’re upset—they need adults to help give them the words to express their feelings.
Finally, remember that tragedy is a part of every life—the job of parents is not to shield their children from tragedy, but to help their children become resilient enough to survive it. This is not often a job that anyone can do alone, and if you need help, ask for it, from friends, family, clergy, or health care professionals.