Helping Children Through Tragedy

In a perfect world parents would have the ability to protect their children from the terrible events that happen. However, it’s impossible for one to shield their child from everything.

Tragic events, although rare, do manage to happen and it’s better to talk openly to your children before they start seeing or hearing about it from somewhere else.

When to talk to your child:

Kristyn Gregory is a child and adolescent psychiatrist that works for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

“It should be done immediately so they don’t get the wrong information… ask questions and not assume that kids haven’t heard anything about it, because most of the time they have. Kids are very savvy with social media and most of the time they know what’s going on,” she said.

How to talk to your child:

When discussing tragedy with your child it important to take age into consideration. Be mindful of what information and details are important to give to your child.

Dr. Gregory said, “younger school aged kids don’t need as much detail. There’s no need to go into the gory details and to express your own fears because all that will do will upset the child more.”

Although finding the right words to use during hard times might be difficult, create a safe space for your child to communicate to you about their fears, thoughts and wishes about the situation. By creating a safe space your child can find a sense of protection and comfort during a time where they might feel vulnerable.

Tradgedies can often dominate the news cycle and it’s easy for children to be overwhelmed with constant coverage.

“Kids don’t need to be sitting there with you watching every detail, it’s good to take a news break for at least a day so the child isn’t over exposed,” said Dr. Gregory.

However if you do happen to watch the news regularly Dr. Gregory advises that you watch it with your child so that can further explain certain elements and answer any questions that they may have.

Another great alternative to watching the news is to listen or read it with your child, instead.

Dr. Gregory explained, “It’s better to listen to the news instead of watching it so they’re not exposed to as many violent images.”

What to look for:

No matter the age we all have a grieving process, and within the weeks following a tragedy you could notice some subtle changes within your child.

In young kids you could see that they are reverting back to some old habits such as crawling into bed with you, or sucking their thumb. They could also be fearful of new things such as storms, or the dark.

Adolescents are different and might become more irritable and deny that they are upset.

“If they last longer than two weeks, or if they become progressively worse after that two week mark then take them to professional counseling,” said Dr. Gregory.

Although dealing with tragedies is something we are never exactly prepared for, helping your children understand will not only help them but you as well by continuing to have a healthy relationship with your child.

Dr. Gregory said “maintain an open safe environment where your kids are comfortable coming to you.”

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Photo Credit via Flickr: Martin Garrido

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