Helping children deal with tragic events

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Another shooting in Dallas, Texas, leaves Americans across the country feeling a sense of helplessness, uncertainty and growing fear. An attack on the police department is an attack on every citizen served and it destroys community as well as security.

Understanding the complications of the past few weeks’ atrocities is difficult for adults to wrap their heads around let alone their children. Talking to children during dark times is necessary though. It helps prevent future violence, intolerance and racism. Talking to your children also helps restore their security, confidence and willingness to help. Take time to be with your kids and talk to them about what happened, and the importance of being brave and hopeful about the future.

  • Stay calm. Parents are a barometer for their children and children are skilled    with reading their parent’s emotions.
  • Avoid blaming. When you blame any one gender, color or religion for a terrible action you are reinforcing prejudice and fear into your child for life.
  • Reassure your child. Make a plan and talk to your child about what you would do if something like this tragedy happened in your family. An emergency plan helps children feel more secure.
  • Keep the routine at home. Playtime, stories and normal routines provide security and distraction for your child. All of these are comforting.
  • Limit media. Your child doesn’t understand replays, breaking news and reenactments of the horror. They think the tragedy is continuing. This causes anxiety, depression and can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  • Spend extra time together. Kids are most comfortable and secure when mom and dad are around.
  • Demonstrate helping with your child. Kids like to help, and there is always someone you can help during dark times. Planting a tree, or praying together as well as writing a letter to police member’s families thanking them for keeping you safe helps your child feel needed and useful.
  • Listen and allow your children to talk about how they feel. It’s important to listen to your kids and allows them to express themselves without fear. Sometimes kids will act out more, get angry and misbehave. Talking to them or having them express their feelings by drawing is a good way to help them.
  • Be aware of early signs of emotional distress. Be aware that if your child is going through a major change at home, or has experienced a trauma in the past, they may lapse into depression when bad things happen around them. Kids at risk should be monitored for mood or behavior changes that are new and continue. Talking to a therapist, clergy or mental health professional is recommended. 

Kids find comfort in what Mr. Rogers’ mother use to tell him in dark times. She would say, “Look for the helpers. There are always more helpers than bad people.” Good in the world must always be more powerful than bad; we all need that right now.