Talking to your children about tragedy
In the aftermath of tragedy, whether it occurs close to home or elsewhere, parents are often left wondering how they should talk to their children and how they should answer questions.
One of my former supervisors and child psychologist, Dr. April Harris-Britt, shared this advice regarding talking to your children:
“In traumatic situations such as this, parents are often faced with their own feelings of sadness, grief, helplessness, and even fear. There is often a sense of confusion about what, if anything, you should tell your children. For young children, under the age of 6, and in cases where you can be more certain that they will not be exposed to the case via news, other children, or school, you do not necessarily need to share the case with your children.
For children who are older, they are likely to learn about the events in the media or during discussions at school. Therefore, it is more important that you are able to discuss the events first and to answer any questions that the child may have. Each child may respond differently, and some may have more questions than others. It is important to be truthful and to use words and phrases that are age appropriate. A few points that may be helpful include the following:
1. Explain to your child that a very sad event happened at a school that is far away and that they may hear about it on TV or from others.
2. Let your child know that the person who hurt the children and others was mentally ill, and does not make good choices.
3. Ensure your child that you, their teachers, the school, and others will work even harder to keep their school and other schools safer in the future.
4. Allow your child and your self to recognize that this was a scary, sad event.
5. Tell your child that you are able to talk to them about how they feel and to answer any questions that they might have.
6. If your or your child want to help, draw a picture together, make a card, or allow your child to know that the family is donating something to help the families.
7. If you are noticing that your child is becoming more clingy or anxious or even have nightmares, be there to provide more physical contact and support, as well as emotional reassurance.”
Remember that you know your child best. Try to keep as much of a sense of normalcy in their routines and their day as possible. Don’t hesitate to reach out for support in your neighborhood through your child’s school, doctor, or any other professionals during these difficult times.