18
Dec

Sandy Hook School Shooting | Children Coping with Crisis

children, schoolThe tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT, has affected us all. 

My first grader returned to school Monday.  It was a hard day for us, as it was for many parents.  Over the past weekend, Facebook had many, many parents asking each other if other people's young children knew about what happened.  Also, parents wanted to know how and what to tell their children about this national disaster.

In general, young children do not need many details. In fact, it is important to keep it simple. For example, you can say, "A bad thing happened at a school far away/nearby. A man hurt/killed some people/teachers/kids there. Some people died there. This bad thing rarely happens. Everyone is making sure that every school is super safe. Everyone is doing their best and working together to make sure that this never happens again."

Keep in mind the age of your child, their true nature (quiet vs. talkative), their natural coping style (internalization vs. outspoken).  This is especially important as each child is different.  Whereas older children may want a long discussion on this topic, small children, might only want a little bit.  Be prepared that they will likely return to the conversation at a later time.

Most important, be truthful. Children can usually tell if you are avoiding the truth.  They can also sense when something is bothering you.  They may not be able to verbalize it, but they can definitely feel it.

Above all else, be kind to yourself. Know what you can handle at any given time, on any given day.
Understand that you and your child may grieve or ask questions differently. You may not be able to have this discussion when your child wants to do so.  If that's the case, you can keep it brief.  Let them know that everyone is keeping them as safe as can be. Let them know how much you love them. Explain to them when it is a better time for you to talk about it, if you can. Remember that it's okay to have many feelings, such as anger, sadness, confusion, guilt, and more. Children may not know this. In general, it is good to remind them that it's okay to feel the way they do.

Suffice it to say, there are many excellent resources that can help you have this type of discussion with your children. My goal here is to give you some resources that you can turn to, if needed.
If you would like to learn more about helping your child cope with death in general, in the aftermath of a disaster, and in the aftermath of school shootings, I've provided several links that are truly helpful.

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has the following articles:
"Helping Children Cope With Death", http://bit.ly/RAe1nk
"Talking to Children About Disasters", http://bit.ly/UDxXRV

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has the following audio:
"AAP Offers Resources to Help Parents, Children and Others Cope in the Aftermath of School Shootings", http://bit.ly/1zmUARo

The National Association of School Psychologists has an excellent article on helping children cope when there is a national tragedy, entitled,  "National Tragedy: Helping Children Cope", http://bit.ly/12khEQ4

National Center for Crisis and Bereavement has an article entitled, "Guidelines for Responding to the Death of a Student or School Staff" (http://bit.ly/1k2wUaX).

My prayers and thoughts are with all who have been affected by this tragedy in Sandy Hook. There are no words that truly convey all of the emotions I have at this moment.  Never did I envision such a tragedy. This crisis at Sandy Hook has reminded me to be grateful for everything in my life. Those brave children and teachers have reminded me how much love there really is in the world. The life they lived and the love they shared reminds me to live and love. May God bless the memories of the angels of Sandy Hook, keeping them on our hearts forever.

11
Jan

Coping with the Aftermath of a Tragedy

On Saturday, January 8, 2011, our nation suffered devastation with the shootings that occurred in Tuscon, Arizona.  Jared Loughner killed 6 and injured 14 others at a gathering for constituents of Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  Rep. Giffords was severely wounded by a bullet that passed through her brain.  She is currently in intensive care, has been responsive, but has an unknown future.  Christina Green, a 9 year old girl was among those killed.

Yesterday, there were many moments of silence observed ... at the White House South Lawn, the U.S. Capitol steps, the Supreme Court, and at the BCS national championship to mention a few.

How can we make sense of this?  How can we make sense of this to our children when we don't understand it fully ourselves?  There are several guidelines as to how you can best help your child, regardless of age, cope with the aftermath of a tragedy. 

First, you may want to consider supervising or limiting what your children see on TV regarding this and other traumatic events.  Your actions will depend on the age of your child, the level of understanding, and maturity of your child. 
Second, and most important of all, communicate with your child at a level appropriate to his/her age.  If you decide to watch the news coverage with your child, discuss developments with them. Give your child the chance to ask you questions. 

Next, be prepared to discuss their emotions.  Ask them what they think and/or feel.  Allow them to express fear, confusion, etc.  Let them know that a variety of thoughts and emotions are normal.  In addition, sometimes, a tragedy can bring up other thoughts and emotions from an unrelated difficult experience.  Be aware that this can occur, so that you can best handle the other issue as it arises.
Remember to be honest.  It is okay to admit to your child that you don't understand how such a tragedy could occur.  It is important to know that you might not have all the answers, but that everyone involved in the tragedy is working at getting the answers (investigators, school officials, family, friends, etc.)  You can tell your child that as more answers are available, you can talk about this again.
Be prepared to revisit the tragedy.  Keeping the lines of communication open is also important.  The reality is your child's awareness may change in the next few days, months, or even years, especially as more information becomes available over time.
Lastly, if possible, end the conversation on a positive note.  There usually are heroes in every tragedy as there are this one.  Point out the 20 year old intern, Daniel Hernandez, who at only five days of being an intern, sprung into action, applied pressure to Rep. Giffords wound, preveting excessive further bleeding.  Point out other four people in the crowd that worked together to stop the gunman from reloading, preventing more death and injuries.  Point out the masses and prayers that are being said for all these people.  Point out the moments of silence throughout the country.  Point out the communities that are uniting to help out the families of those directly injured or otherwise affected by the shootings.  At the risk of sounding corny, that's a lot of love and goodness in people's hearts.  Our children need to know that despite the evil in the world, goodness remains.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a free downloadable guide available online regarding coping with the aftermath of a tragedy at http://store.samhsa.gov/product/KEN01-0093.  It is called, "Tips for Talking to Children and Youth After Traumatic Events: A Guide for Parents and Educators."  This is an invaluable resource.  I recommend you print it out and use it; it is helpful for any traumatic event.
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