In an interview by News Channel 3 regarding the recent events, Colorado at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, Stephanie Rosales shared an insight on how parents can talk to their children about a tragedy. Knowing what to do and say can help address the confusion and the anxiety after a crisis situation.
We must acknowledge that if children do not get the information from their parents or a trusted adult, they will get it somewhere else. Talking to children and clarifying information, whether they are our own kids or whether they are the kids we work with, is important!
- The adults in a child’s life are models of how to handle a crisis situation. It is important that we show calm and control as well as adaptive coping strategies as we process our own emotions related to a crisis event. Our children will pick up our cues, follow our lead, and learn how to deal effectively with a crisis situation.
- Don’t pretend that nothing has happened or lie to them about it. Honesty is definitely the best policy in this situation. If you lie to them, they will likely feel that the situation is much worse, so much so that you can’t share it with them.
- With honesty, when talking to a child about a crisis situation, keep your responses developmentally appropriate. A young child will require a brief statement about facts and reassurances that they are safe and that things are being handled to help those most affected by the crisis. Older children may benefit from talking about the situation and may need assistance with focusing on the reality of the situation versus a fantasy that they may create around the situation. Teenagers may wish to talk about the situation and may also provide solutions to the problem or propose ways that they can help out.
- Let them know that it is okay to express their feelings (i.e. sadness, shock, anger, disappointment, fear, etc.) about the event. They will need patience and some will also need guidance in displaying their emotions appropriately.
- Not all children will verbalize their perceptions or feelings regarding the event, therefor it is important to be observant of your child’s behavior. If you notice any significant changes in behavior, appetite, sleep, etc., it is a good idea to talk with them and see what is going on, what they are feeling and/or thinking about the situation. If these symptoms persist, you may want to seek professional mental health services to help the child.
- Parents and caregivers tend to know, based on previous experiences and observations, how a child will respond in these situations which makes it possible to anticipate and be proactive regarding a child’s social and emotional needs during a crisis.
- Reassure the child that they are safe and that the important people in their lives are safe. Point out things that verify their safety and spend more time with them as they process what has happened.
The key in all of this is to be observant and a good listener. Children will let us know what they need through their words and their actions.