For many of us this is a personal and emotional topic. For my family, we have much family in Staten Island, NY, which was recently devastated by Hurricane Sandy. The horrific school shooting in Connecticut has spurred many questions and anxiety from my kindergartner. Of course, lots of hugs and kisses provide comfort but they need more….
Children cope most effectively when they understand what is happening and what they can do to protect themselves. Give them basic information without unnecessary details.
For very young children, give them concrete explanations, reassure them that people are working to help them and the community to repair or recover and share with them all the steps that are being taken to keep them safe from this happening again.
For older children, start by asking what they already know as they will likely benefit from additional information about the tragedy and recovery efforts. Limit media coverage. Record the news stories, review them, then watch and explain together. This way they can ask questions, and you can help them process the information. Often limited or misunderstood information can lead to increased anxiety and fear, but if their fears are realistic, do not give false reassurance, instead help them to cope with these feelings.
Help children to cope. It is not helpful for adults to seem overwhelmed by a situation but you can teach children to learn to cope by sharing how you are feeling and how you are coping with those feelings. Both children and adults often feel helpless in the aftermath of a tragedy; help them to figure out what they can do to help others in their community impacted by the disaster.
Support a Grieving Child. If the child has suffered the loss of a family member or a friend, they will need to understand and grieve a personal loss, beyond the disaster itself. Click here for more information.