Helping Children Cope with Tragedy

Recently our education community and nation suffered a great tragedy. More and more often parents are forced to have difficult conversations with their children about violent acts in our communities and our world. Although we may try to shield, children often hear more and know more them adults realize. When tragedies occur, even if children are not directly affected, they still need our support and reassurance.

The majority of the time, tragedies will play out in the media. Natural tragedies (such as hurricanes and earthquakes) and man-made tragedies (such as military attacks or a shooting) are all stories children see on displayed newspaper, hear on the radio in the car or see on television. Directly following a tragedy, it will be important to limit the amount of information that your child hears and sees. These types of stories will remain a major talking point for days, and children do not need to hear about it over and over again. Turn off the TV and internet at home. When your child is in the car, turn off the radio and listen to his/her favorite CD instead. Keep newspapers and magazines away from your child’s reach, as photos of this event will be featured for some time to come. However, even with these actions, we cannot shield children from events completely. It is important that you address any concerns or questions your child may have directly.

Young children lack the ability to tell the difference between what is real and what is pretend. They also lack the ability to tell the difference between tragedies that happen far away and what is happening in their lives. Stick to the facts without the details. Reassure your child that they are safe and their school is safe. We all feel powerless in these scary situations, including children. Focus their thoughts back on things they can do-sending a card to a hurt victim, donating some of their holiday gift money to the families displaced by a storm, drawing a picture for a child affected. Keep an eye out for warning signs that your child is having trouble dealing with this event. This may include nightmares, continuing to want to discuss the event, changes in eating patterns and not wanting to go to school. The most important things you can do for your child is reassure them and keep your routines. Routines give children structure and security.

For tragedies that hit close to home, follow them same guidelines. Be attentive to your child, and address any concerns directly. Reassure your child that they are safe and that you are with them. Keep the child’s routine consistent. Remember, although a child may seem fine initially, you may see other warning sign weeks or months later.

Here are some resources which can help families support their children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy: