Editor’s Note: After the devastating events in Paris, we decided to repost these helpful tips on talking to kids when tragedy strikes.
USEP-OHIO PARENT TIP
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JoAnne, an elementary principal I spoke with said, “There was a lockdown at our school when a convenience store clerk in the neighborhood was shot. Since then, we have had problems with disruptive kids, students who seem withdrawn, and a lot of kids with stomach aches coming to the office.” This year, there have been many scary crimes, weather related events and disasters reported in the news near home and all around us. Many parents and teachers have asked, “What should I say to my kids?”
Mom Melanie, whose 3-year-old daughter attends preschool, says that she now clings to the teacher and is telling “tall tales” about how she has been hurt in the halls or the restroom. She says that she doesn’t want to come to school and sometimes sucks her thumb.
These are classic reactions after there is a traumatic event that children experience or hear about. Kids may cling to parents or teachers, become agitated, revert to younger behaviors or act aggressive or withdrawn. Schoolwork often suffers, and kids may act disruptive or suddenly try risky behavior like smoking or drugs. Teens often deny they were scared and feel guilty that they couldn’t do much about the event.
I remember when we had a tornado in our town. The kids reacted, and the adults were preoccupied with practical issues and their own emotions. Two children in the school lost their homes. Finally, we had a meeting and made decisions to try these things at home and at school:
To reassure the children, we noted the importance of sitting together, cuddling younger kids, and giving lots of spoken support. We decided to be honest in answering questions but not to dwell on the scary stuff. So, the talk each day was brief and upbeat.
We maintained a routine but added art and play activities that helped kids express themselves. Parents monitored television, watching to limit exposure to troubling reports.
Kids and families were encouraged to:
-Let kids talk and discuss fears and concerns, helping them accept their emotions.
-Remind kids that each day will get a little better and that after the disaster will come recovery!
-Be open to counseling. Kids and parents fear losing one another and can learn from this.
Photo: Serge Bertasius Photography