When tragedy strikes, how do you explain to children what happened when you can’t understand it yourself? How do you tell your children they will be safe at school, when you are feeling uncertain about their safety?
How do you make your children feel safe and secure when you are not feeling safe and secure?
These are great questions, with only one answer… you are their parent. Here are some tips to how parents can help their children feel whole and secure.
Start with the facts:
- A horrible tragedy took place but this is extremely rare.
- Schools, airplanes, stadiums – these are all safe places.
- The authorities and emergency personnel are trained to keep you safe.
- It is important to listen to your parents or the authorities in times of crisis.
Answer their questions:
Never lie to your children, but answer their questions directly, honestly and use developmentally appropriate verbiage when talking to them (depending on their age). Children are naturally ego-centric – they need to be reassured of their own safety as they try to make sense of the tragedy.
Don’t talk to them the way you would another adult. Short, simple and careful language should be used.
Don’t expose children to adult talk and to the news (TV, Internet, radio etc.).
Remain confident and secure even if you do not feel it. Your children will pick up on your fear. Most of the time if you act like it will be okay, your children will be okay. It is important that we reassure our children that their safety is of the utmost importance and they will be safe at school.
Even children as young as three can understand from your words, actions, body language, and changes in behavior that something is wrong. Be conscious of the long term message that you are subliminally sending to your children.
Be an Available Parent:
Let your child know that you are there for them to talk to about anything. If they have questions answer them directly without drama or detail.
Casually check in with your child every day this week, than twice next week, than once a week and then randomly. Some children have delayed reactions from crisis and all children cope differently.
If you or your children are having ongoing difficulties please seek professional help.