My brother, Lloyd Williamson, sent me this useful piece about helping children cope with recent, present and future tragic events. I tried to track the source and was unable to, so I hope any copyright problems will be forgiven during this time of crisis. (Written after the Twin Towers destruction...)
Parents Can Help
When there is a major change in a community that affects the adults in their lives, children/teens often feel worried and disrupted. A change like the terrorist attack in New York City is upsetting and unfamiliar to parents and children/teens alike. In most cases no one has faced a situation like this before. Not surprisingly many parents feel anxious about talking to their children/teens about what has happened. They worry that they will say the wrong thing or that they will cause children/teens to worry.
At times like these, parents and teachers can help children/teens in a way that no one else can. Your children know and trust you – you are an expert for them.
Bringing it up firstParents make it easier for children/teens to express their fears and worries if they bring it up first. This shows the child /teen that the parent is not afraid to talk about what has happened, and that they can manage their own feelings. If possible, find a quiet place without interruptions.
Start with the known Begin with what your child/teen has seen or hear. Saying something like, "I know you saw the television about the bombing." or "You mentioned that some of the kids at the high school are upset about…."
Do not avoid the topic Adults make it easier for children/teens to talk about their worries if they are allowed an open discussion of the topic. This shows children/teens that adults can face changes, and can handle their own feelings.
Assume that if the adults are worried or upset the children/teens are also Remember that the younger the child, the less realistic their fears might be. For example, some children don’t understand that if they move, they take their things with them.
Normalize feelings Children/teens can feel bewildered by the feelings that surface in themselves and their families. A statement from a parent or teacher that their feelings are normal can help them express their worries. It is also hard for the adults who do not know what changes might lay ahead.
Just listening helps Listening lets children/teens know that their feelings whatever they are deserve attention, respect and understanding.
Going at a Child’s/Teen’s pace Encouragement to go at their own pace talking about their worries steadies children/teens. Some might want to talk right away; others will wait a week or so. Often they will ask one or two serious questions then change the subject to something lighter. Two weeks later they may return to the subject.
Repeating Asking the same questions over and over, and hearing the same answer helps many children/teens, especially the younger ones. It is much like hearing a scary story over and over again – since each time it becomes less frightening.
Being honest Answering questions – clearly and in a matter-of-fact manner – is calming. Often you will find that you do not know the answers to the child’s question. Do not guess, lie or evade – just explain that you do not know. Seeing that adults can live with ambiguity and confusion soothes children/teens and gives them hope.
Anticipate more emotional behavior In the days and weeks to follow, children/teens may be angrier worried and upset. They will not usually know why they are more troubled and/or troublesome. Limits and calm acceptance of these feelings will help.
Keep other things steady Regular school and family routines are important. Consistent routines provide sense of security and order in a time of change.
Combining Care and Compassion During