Orlando — formerly known as a magical, fun venue — has now been added to a growing list of places where unspeakable horrors have been perpetuated. As we imbibe the 24/7 media coverage, we are horrified and outraged at a despicable and depraved act that has caused unspeakable suffering, pain and grief. As adults, we search for ways to console and heal the afflicted at the same time that we look for ways to make our communities and our country safer and more secure. But how do we — who are stunned and shaken ourselves — comfort, reassure and empower our children in a confusing and frightening world?
Following the Paris terror attacks, a Le Petit Journal video of a French father and his 6-year-old son went viral. In response to his son’s fears, the father reassures him that they will not have to leave France, and points out that people have placed flowers and candles in memory of those who were killed. This seems to provide some consolation to the child.
Another approach is suggested by Fred Rogers, a great source of wisdom for parents and children. Mr. Rogers offers us a starting point for providing solace to frightened children.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
This is great advice for children as well as adults. It is comforting to know how quickly and competently the San Bernardino police responded, and how they likely reduced the number of casualties by their actions. It is important for children to understand that there will always be people – no matter what the tragedy or trauma — who will care for them.
Here are 10 ways for helping kids through these scary times.
1. Listen to your children very carefully and acknowledge their fears. Let your kids talk about their feelings as much or as little as they want to. Respect and honor their feelings. Answer their questions honestly.
2. Model calm behavior for your children. If you are upset and agitated, your children will reflect your attitude.
3. Monitor TV coverage, as well as newspaper, radio, and digital images and reports. Even if children have not personally experienced a catastrophe, watching it on the news can traumatize them.
4. A child’s age will determine what he/she can understand and process.There’s no “one size fits all.” Be age-appropriate.
5. Find out what is being discussed in school and among your child’s friends.
6. Don’t allow the tragedy to become the all-consuming topic in your household. Children hear everything. Understand that conversations between adults can frighten children as much as the news.
7. Offer positive input. Stress the courage and bravery of the heroes and the helpers. Explain that it is highly unlikely that your child will ever be in a similar situation. For example, “There is a one in four million chance that this will happen here. But if something bad does happen, there are always people who will help, protect and care for you.”
8. Share stories of cooperation, resilience, and hope.
9. Engage in family activities and rituals that are comforting, anxiety reducing, and enjoyable.
10. Suggest ways that your children can help victims.
Meryl Ain, Ed.D., The Comfort Coach, inspires people to transcend their losses by keeping alive the memories, passions, values and legacies of those they have lost. She helps to promote healing by providing professionals, organizations, and individuals with the tools to foster optimistic thinking, positive projects, and resilience. A former teacher and school administrator, her articles have appeared in The Huffington Post, MariaShriver.com, The New York Jewish Week, The New York Times, and Newsday.
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