The Ultimate Guide To Helping Kids Cope With Tragedy And Crisis
When tragedy strikes, parents are often left to process their feelings of distress, as well as faced with the challenge of helping their children do the same. To do this effectively, a parent must first approach the discussion with thoughtfulness. Consider how to talk to your child, anticipate how they may react and have a plan to help them cope.
How To Talk To A Child About A Tragic Event
Take time to think about what you want to say. When possible, decide to approach the subject at a time when your child is most receptive to conversation, such as after dinner. Start by asking your child what he or she already knows about the event. Ask your child if she or he has any questions. Take time to address those concerns. Allow your child's answers to guide the discussion. Don't offer too much information upfront, as this could be overwhelming.
Developmentally Appropriate Communication Tips:
Anticipate Your Child's Reaction
Children experience a range of emotions, following a tragedy. These can include fear, anger, shock, anxiety as well as, grief. Your child's age and development will dictate how he or she exhibits the stress felt after a tragedy. For example:
- Preschool Children
Children in this range tend to be more rigid and have at least some difficulty adjusting to change and loss. It is common for a child to act clingy. Often children in this age group try to mimic the emotions they see you demonstrate. It is not uncommon for children to act out or regress in their developmental behaviors. They may begin to wet their bed or suck their thumbs. Often they will not feel comfortable sleeping alone. Parents should avoid criticizing or disciplining your child for this behavior until they have had time to adjust.
- Elementary And Early Middle School Children
Sleep problems, such as nightmares and insomnia is most common in this age range. These children may fear going to school. They often experience difficulties paying attention in class. Your child may act out of character, such as exhibiting aggressiveness.
- Upper Middle School And High School Children
Older children tend to a more stoic behavior, denying that they' are upset by the event. Some children of this age have physical manifestations of emotional problems. They may complain of aches and pains if they're cannot express what is affecting them. You may notice that they are more argumentative or resistant to authority than usual.
These reactions are all considered normal responses to traumatic or tragic events. However, if the behavior continues for more than four weeks, this may indicate that he or she needs help coping. Children who have experienced previous trauma might be at greater risk of an unhealthy or abnormal reaction. Discuss any concerns you have regarding your child's reaction, with their healthcare provider.
Helping Your Child Cope
There are specific things you can do to help your child process the event:
- Model Calm: Your child looks to you for cues about how they should respond.
- Reassure Your Child: Discuss factors that reinforce the child's ability to know that they are safe, that they family is safe.
- Create A Family Emergency Plan: Allow children of all ages to participate.
- Limit Television Or Radio: Do not permit children to see or hear coverage of the event repeatedly. Even if you believe your young child is engrossed in an activity, she or he is probably aware. Overexposure to media coverage can heighten a child's anxiety.
- Avoid Blaming: If the tragic event was caused by a person either in violence or because of error, take care that you do not discuss blame.
- Maintain The Routine: Maintaining a sense of normalcy is important. Keep up your family's established schedule. Dinner, bedtime, and homework routines are a wonderful way to show a child stability.
- Spend Quality Time: Sometimes extra attention can boost your child's feelings of security. Spend more time reading or tucking him or her in bed.
- Offer Bedtime Comfort: If your child is experiencing difficulty sleeping, provide a night light, leave on a hallway light or bathroom light or even allow your child to bunk with you for a few nights.
- Encourage Emotion: Let your child know that it's OK to cry or feel upset, even if you do not. Encourage your child to write about or make drawings of the feelings they are having.
- Get Out: Physical activity can be a great outlet for difficult to express feelings, such as frustration.
- Don't Overreact To Behavior Changes: If your child is behaving in a way that is out of character, take the time to discuss alternate ways of coping, but remain calm and do not enforce harsh discipline at this stage.
- Utilize School Or Community Resources: Check to see what counseling may be available to your child after a tragedy, take advantage of these offerings.
- Do Something For Those Closely Affected: Discuss, plan and flow through with ways that your family can reach out to victims and their families.
Remember that there is no cookie-cutter approach to parenting and that is particularly the case in times of crisis. As a parent, your job is to teach, model behavior, and nurture. Doing so with consistency in these difficult times makes it possible for your child to handle change and disruption in a positive way. Coping is a skill that is perhaps more meaningful to your child's life than even reading and writing.