Saturday, December 15, 2012

Helping Your Child Deal With Tragedy

The tragic shooting in Newtown CT strikes the parents of young children in a unique way.  Our children’s trusting eyes, their upturned faces emphatically underscore the human proportions of this senseless act.  We feel our responsibilities as parents even more keenly.  At the same time, fulfilling them becomes infinitely more complicated now.

Here are five basic things you can do as this story unfolds:
  • Spend intentional time with your child.  One of a child’s most basic needs is to feel safe.  As parents, we often underestimate the security our mere presence provides.   Make a special effort to stay close to your child.  Just being together in the same room is a tremendous source of reassurance.
  • Don’t encourage or discourage their questions.  Don’t initiate questions but, don’t discourage them either.  Let your child be your guide. Respond honestly and directly to your child’s question if and when they do ask.  Remember, it’s often not what we say, but how we say it.  Our words may go right over our child’s head.  Our body language, our tone of voice will ring out loud and clear.  Direct, honest, calm responses tell your child what they most need to know.
  • Limit news coverage.  While it’s important to stay informed, it’s easy to overdo it these days.  Constant news coverage creates it’s own rationale, and it’s easy for children and adults to lose perspective.  Turn it off for awhile.
  • Save adult talk for adults.  Our children’s questions often touch our own uncertainties.  Avoid the temptation to go into those uncertainties with your child.  It’s important that we have a place to work out our own questions and feelings.  Talk with your spouse, a friend, or even write in a journal.  While, it can be healthy and healing for an adult to acknowledge their questions with their child.  An honest “I don’t know” is better than posturing and avoidance.  However, it’s almost always a mistake for a parent to share more than that with their child. Our children don’t need to deal with their parent’s issues.  They need us to help them deal with theirs.
  • Maintain perspective.  Because bad things can and do happen in the world, doesn’t mean the world is a bad place.  Bad things are the exception, not the rule.  Remind your child that their school is a safe place.  They can trust their teacher, the principal, and the school staff.  If you have questions about school security, resolve them with the school administration.  Your child doesn’t need to hear them right now.
Finally, get involved.  Perhaps the best thing we can do as parents is to have a hand in creating a world our children can safely believe in.

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