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Helping Our Children Deal with Tragedy 

The Huffington Post shared some tips on how to talk to your children about Tragedy.

Turn off the news
Parents are the best source of news for their children. News programs are not geared for children and repeated exposure to distressing information or images can be confusing and in some cases traumatizing to children when they believe that with each repetition they see, the event is recurring.

Don't give details
Children don't need to know details. Unless they ask, this is not important information. They need to have a narrative to understand the basics of what occurred. Emphasize that many people are working to make sure that doesn't happen again, and that it is over.

Start with what your child already knows
Ask your child what they've heard of what happened. Young children do not need to know unless they will be exposed to the information at church or synagogue or some other venue. The following script can be used for children in middle school. High school students will likely have more questions. Listen to their questions, ask for their input and share yours at a level appropriate for your child.

Here is a sample script: A very sad thing happened in a town in Connecticut on Friday. A man who was very disturbed and had a lot of problems came to a school and shot people; 28 people died. This was very wrong. Immediately, police and ambulances came to keep people safe and take care of people who were hurt. The shooting stopped. The families are very sad. Many, many people who care and love them are helping to take care of them. Schools are very safe places. This is very rare, which means it is extremely unlikely to ever happen. Your teachers and principals work hard to keep you safe at school. That is their job and they work very hard to do that.

Consider your purpose 
We all want to protect our children. Although we can't always protect them from the fact that bad things do happen, we can protect them from feeling more vulnerable and scared because of our explanations. Our explanations should let children know that hard and bad things happen sometimes, but they are very rare, that billions of other people don't want those things to happen, just like them, and that there are thousands of people whose job is to keep children safe. These people work to prevent things from happening. Very rarely bad things do happen, and that is very sad.

Maintain your routines
When a tragedy occurs, the routines such as regular meals and bedtimes may get compromised. Change is stressful; routine is organizing. Routines signal to children that the adults are in charge, and that normalcy prevails. This lets them know that the tragedy, though it is being processed, is over and it's not still going on.

Restore a sense of safety
This is not a time to teach about what to do if an emergency occurred. Children are feeling vulnerable either from grasping what occurred during the tragic events, or even just from seeing the adults upset. The priority now is to tell children that they are safe, help them to picture the layers and layers of adults whose job it is to keep them safe: their parents, the mayor of their town, the president, their teachers and school personnel.

Stay calm 
Children are likely to see parents upset during this time, and crying and feeling sad are all normal, expected and healthy reactions to a tragedy. You can explain this to your child: "Mom is very sad right now, because this was a very sad thing that happened. Mom is OK. Mom won't always feel this way, but this is how Mom feels right now." It is very important in the presence of children to avoid angry outbursts and tirades against people you believe are responsible; this will be confusing and may even make children feel that they are somehow responsible for making you sad or angry.

Give support and spend time with your children
While this is an extremely emotional time for parents identifying with and grieving for the parents who have lost their children, or families who have lost loved ones, spending time with your children will help you and your children to feel connected and safe.

Expect a range of reactions
Children may cry when they hear the news, they may be angry or they may have little reaction. All of these are normal. Children may be more clingy, need more hugs and support at bedtime. All of this is normal.

When to seek help
If after a week or two children continue to be having difficulties, and their anxiety and fears have intensified over that time rather than faded and resolved, consult your pediatrician for advice.

Though we can't shield our children from the realities of life, we can greatly impact how our children are exposed to them, what they learn from them, and how they live with them. These are the parental privileges and responsibilities that we can exercise even in difficult times. Our goal is to prevent our children from becoming afraid or angry or feeling like the world is a chaotic place; it is to show them that there is light even in the narrow places that we are thrust in from tragedies. We can know that while there are many issues which may divide us-- as parents, as educators, as those who care about the future for our children-- we must focus on what brings us together and with our conviction hold tight and work toward the possibility that things can be better for all.

Read Full Huffington Post Article Here
 

Resources

Helping your children manage distress in the aftermath of a shooting
www.apa.org/helpcenter/aftermath.aspx

Managing your distress in the aftermath of a shooting
www.apa.org/helpcenter/mass-shooting.aspx

Five Questions on the Tucson, Ariz., Shootings for Psychologist Joel Dvoskin, PhD
**please see # 3 question and response
www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2011/01/tucson-shootings.aspx

Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event:
A GUIDE FOR PARENTS, CAREGIVERS, AND TEACHERS:
store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA12-4732/SMA12-4732.pdf

Helpful Hints for School Emergency Management:
Psychological First Aid (PFA) for Students and Teachers: Listen, Protect, Connect – Model & Teach
rems.ed.gov/docs/HH_Vol3Issue3.pdf

Listen, Protect, Connect – Model and Teach:
Psychological First Aid for Teacher and Students
www.ready.gov/sites/default/files/documents/files/PFA_SchoolCrisis.pdf

After a Loved One Dies:
How children grieve and how parents and other adults can support them 
www.tinyurl.com/6trf3zc

School Crisis Guide:
Help and Healing in a Time of Crisis
www.neahin.org/educator-resources/school-crisis-guide.html

Disaster Distress Helpline
www.disasterdistress.samhsa.gov/

Save The Children
http://www.savethechildren.org

Talking to Kids About the Newtown School Shooting
www.tinyurl.com/bpshlvu

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