Our nation has experienced many tragedies in recent months, including the Boston Marathon bombings and the disastrous fire and explosions in Waco, Texas. Even if not personally affected, we as adults struggle with feelings of sadness, anger and fear. Children experience these feelings too, but without the ability to put the events in perspective as an adult can.
Employees and students who are parents, or have younger siblings, must help the children deal with these feelings in the aftermath of a tragedy. Here are some guidelines:
Take Care of Yourself First
Regain your composure first, and then act to reassure your child. The children will follow your lead. Seek out help for yourself such as EAP services if necessary.
Control the Messages Your Child Receives
Your child will receive information from friends, teachers, TV and other media. Your job will be to make sure they know the facts.
One of the first things to do is turn off the TV. Children can’t discern that news videos are repeated over and over, and will imagine the events are continuing. They will fear that the same thing will happen to them. Limit your child’s exposure to TV, newspapers and other media. Avoid discussing the situation with other adults when children are present.
Have Honest Conversations and Address Their Concerns
In the wake of a tragedy, ask what the children have heard. Then take the opportunity to discuss the situation calmly in age-appropriate terms. Give minimal but honest information, and be sure to ask if the child has any questions. No matter who may be to blame for the event, try not to allow prejudice influence your conversations.
Ask specifically what they are worried about, for example waiting for the school bus at the corner. Explain how you and others ensure their safety and will do everything possible to keep them safe.
Don’t worry if the child is reluctant to share information or ask questions. Allow for some processing time, and always be there for when they want to open up.
Always discuss how those who were hurt received the help they needed, through courageous police, firefighters, doctors and nurses. Relate stories of bystanders helping those in need as they provided temporary clothing or shelter.
Stick to Your Routine
Children need routine in their lives to reassure them that all is well. Keeping your normal schedule for school, homework, after-school activities, meals and bedtime will calm and reassure children.
Take Positive Action
Do something constructive with your child in the wake of a tragedy. Donate pennies or the child’s allowance to a legitimate charity. Volunteering services together can be a wonderful way to show empathy, both for those affected and for your feelings. Be sure to ask your child for his or her ideas when planning activities.
Consider Counseling if No Improvement
Children may display normal stress reactions, such as nightmares, tantrums and being clingy. These should work themselves out over time. Be sure to take action and reach out for counseling if the symptoms last more than a few weeks.
Recognize When Employees and Students Need Help
Employees and students who are parents deal with these very same issues. If you or a manager suspects that an employee is struggling with children who are dealing with traumatic events, be sure to make an EAP referral. An EAP counselor will give guidance as specifically needed.