Coping With Frightening News
By Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, Pres., Child Mind Institute
When tragedy strikes, parents are doubly challenged: you must process your own feelings of grief and distress, and help your children do the same. You can’t protect them from grief—but you can help them express their feelings, comfort them, and help them feel safer. These healthy coping skills will serve them well in the future and give them confidence that they can overcome adversity.
Break the news. When something happens that will get wide coverage, don’t delay telling your children about what’s happened. It’s much better for the child if you’re the one who tells her. You want to be able to convey the facts, however painful, and set the emotional tone.
Take your cues from your child. Invite her to tell you anything she may have heard about the tragedy, and how she feels. Give her ample opportunity to ask questions and avoid encouraging frightening fantasies.
Model calm. It’s okay to let your child know if you’re sad, but if you talk to your child about a traumatic experience in a highly emotional way, then he will likely absorb your emotion and very little else. If you remain calm, he is likely to grasp what’s important: that tragic events can upset our lives, but we can learn from bad experiences and work together to grow stronger.
Be reassuring. Talking about death is always difficult, but a tragic accident or act of violence is especially tough because of how egocentric children are: they’re likely to focus on whether something like this could happen to them. So it’s important to reassure your child about how unusual this kind of event is, and the safety measures that have been taken to prevent this kind of thing from happening to them.
Be developmentally appropriate. Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child’s questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters. Difficult conversations like this aren’t over in one session; expect to return to the topic as many times as your child needs to come to terms with this experience.
Be available. If your child is upset, just spending time with him may make him feel safer. Children find great comfort in routines, and doing ordinary things together as a family may be the most effective form of healing.
Memorialize those who have been lost. Drawing pictures or sharing stories are all positive ways to help provide closure to a child. It’s important to assure your child that people continue to live on in the hearts and minds of others. #