10 Tips to Help Kids Cope with Tragedy
I am numb with disbelief and sorrow. Unimaginable and yet, all too real. The tragedy yesterday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut could have happened anywhere. My town, in fact, used to be named Newtown long ago.
I received this timely advice from an organization not far from Newtown and wanted to share. I hope this helps you and your children during these terrible times.
I will be posting later on what we, as parents, can do to get tougher gun control laws. But first things first. Hug your children tight. Help them through this tragic news. And then, later, let’s all try to do something about it.
Save the Children offers the following 10 tips for adults to support children through any disaster, emergency or crisis:
1. Limit television time. While it can be important for adults to stay informed about the situation, television images and reports may be confusing and frightening for children. Watching too many television reports can overwhelm children and even adults. So, limit the number of television reports about the situation you and your children watch.
2. Listen to your children carefully. Try to find out what your child knows and understands about the situation before responding to their questions. Children can experience stress when they do not understand dangerous experiences. Find out what your child knows about the crisis. Then, talk to your child to help him or her understand the situation and ease their concerns.
3. Give children reassurance. Tell children that adults are doing everything they can to protect and help children who have been affected by the tragedy. Also, let them know that if an emergency happens, your main concern would be their safety. Make sure they know they are being protected.
4. Be alert for significant changes in behavior. Caregivers should be alert to any significant changes in children’s sleeping patterns, eating habits, and concentration levels. Also watch for wide emotional swings or frequent physical complaints. If any of these actions do happen, they will likely lessen within a short time. If they continue, however, you should seek professional help and counseling for the child.
5. Understand children’s unique needs. Not every child will experience a disaster in the same way. As children develop, their intellectual, physical and emotional abilities change. Younger children will depend largely on their parents to interpret events; older children and adolescents will get information from various sources, such as friends and the media. Remember that children of any age can be affected by a disaster. Provide them all with love, understanding and support.
6. Give your children extra time and attention. Children need close, personal attention to know they are safe. Talk, play and, most importantly, listen to them. Find time to engage in special activities with children of all ages.
7. Be a model for your children. Your children will learn how to deal with these events by seeing how you respond. The amount you tell children about how you’re feeling should depend on the age and maturity of the child. You may be able to disclose more to older or more mature children but remember to do so calmly.
8. Watch your own behavior. Make a point of being sensitive to those impacted by the crisis. This is an opportunity to teach your children that we all need to help each other.
9. Help your children return to a normal routine. Children usually benefit from routine activities such as set eating times, bed time, and playing with others. Parents should make sure their children’s school is also returning to normal patterns and not spending a lot of time discussing the disaster.
10. Encourage your children to do volunteer work. Helping others can give children a sense of control and security and promote helping behavior. During a disaster, children and adolescents can bring about positive change by supporting those in need.
More resources from our school:
1. The National Association of School Psychologists provides tips for parents and teachers.
2. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides guidance on how adults can help children after a disaster or traumatic event.
3. Dr. Robert Evans, Psychologist and School Consultant, offers five guidelines that can make a positive difference for children after tragic events.
- Take care of yourself and give yourself some time to come to terms with the event so that you are more able to reassure children.
- Understand that each child will handle an event like this differently. Some middle-school-aged children will talk openly about it, others may act out in unexpected ways, and some may not seem impacted at all.
- Maintain routines to establish a sense of normalcy for children.
- Minimize or avoid projecting your own reactions onto children. Instead, openly observe and listen to their reactions and respond to their level of engagement and need. Often times, adults’ reactions are much stronger and deeper than children’s, and we should be careful not to inadvertently subject children to our own complex responses and levels of understanding.
- Know that children are resilient and often rebound much faster than adults, especially when given opportunities to ask questions and be heard. Answer questions children may have as best you can and show them you care.
- Strongly consider limiting your child’s exposure to media sources that are covering this event.
These tips are also available online at www.savethechildren.org/cope or for download in Spanish at www.savethechildren.org/ayuda.