After a Tragedy: Tips for Parents to Help Their Children

As much as we wish we could, we can not completely shelter our children from the knowledge that horrible tragedies do occur. Thinking about tragedies can be terrifying to us and our children. Parents often feel unprepared for questions children ask and do not know how to address these issues. Here are a few tips for parents in addressing a tragedy:

Take care of your own needs and monitor your own response: While this seems against a parent’s nature to focus on our own needs rather than tending to the children first, it is extremely important. We can better help our children when we are able to model a calm response. Children tend to take emotional cues from the adults in their life. Don’t ignore your own feelings of stress or anger and seek support from others.

Make time to talk with your child and keep explanations developmentally appropriate: The National Association of School Psychologists recommends that early elementary school children need brief, simple information balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe. Upper elementary and early middle school children will have more questions about whether they are truly safe and need more examples about what is being done for their protection. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Upper middle and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence. They need adults to emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools and when to report any personal safety concerns.

Limit television viewing of events: Tragedy’s get intense news coverage and sometimes contain developmentally inappropriate information that can create anxiety in children.

Keep your normal routines: Going about normal daily activities is reassuring to children. Encourage them to keep up with schoolwork and other responsibilities, but don’t force the issue if your child seems overwhelmed.

Focus on the positive and try not to over focus on the worst that can happen: While no one can promise that nothing bad will ever happen, it is important to understand that a significant tragedy is not likely to happen. Help your child understand that although there is a possibility of something happening, the probability of it NOT happening is greater.

Reassure children they are safe: Discuss procedures in place for their safety and emphasize the adults in their life who are there to help.

Validate your child’s feelings: Explain to your child that his or her feelings are okay and normal. Talk about his or her feelings and help your child to put those feelings into perspective.

For more information:
Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers
http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/talkingviolence.pdf

Tips for Supporting Children and Youth After a Crisis Event
http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/Tips-Supporting-Children-Youth.aspx

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