MIAMI (CBSMiami) – When tragic events, like the Boston Marathon bombings, appear on the news, it can be hard on adults, but for kids it can be even more confusing. Many parents may want to shield their kids from news of a disastrous event but it’s difficult. Kids will often find out about it from TV, the Internet or friends at school.
Parents may then start awkwardly fielding questions from their kids. How do you explain that scary events do occur while still making your children feel safe?
Jennifer Evans, a licensed mental health counselor and traumatologist at the Department of Children and Families specializes in compassion fatigue, and she offers these signs to look for in your children and ways you can comfort your child during this time.
- Be Clear: Talking about tragedy and death can be very difficult for anyone. Being clear and only answering what the child is asking will help them to understand without getting into too much graphic detail. Try using dialogue like, “When people die, their bodies stop working.”
- Be Available: Let your kids ask the questions. Start by asking them, “What do you think happened?” Allow them to guide the conversation where they need to go to help them cope.
- Stay Calm: Children learn emotional reactions and coping through adults. The way adults react to events is often the way the child perceives and reacts to the event. It is okay to cry and show concern and emotion, and then to show appropriate ways to cope and heal. Try using dialogue like, “It is okay to feel confused and hurt. Sometimes people cry to show how sad they are. This allows their body to feel better.”
- Normalize Their Feelings: When a tragedy happens it can be confusing and often kids are uncertain of the emotions they are feeling. Use this opportunity to discuss emotions and the way kids are feeling and explain how you can cope. Try using dialogue like, “Often people feel sad when something like this happens. It is hard to understand why someone would do something like this.”
- Understand How Children Cope: You may see your child try to act out the traumatic event through their dolls or other toys. This can be scary for a parent to see, but kids will often replay the event as a way to cope. You can use this opportunity to discuss their play and their memory of the event. This is a great time to clarify and normalize their reaction again. Try doing an activity to help provide closure for your child.
- Notice Changes in Behavior: Often the effect of trauma on your body does not happen until weeks after the event. This is a normal process of coping. If your child’s behavior dramatically changes for an extended amount of time, consult a professional. Common symptoms of trauma include sleeplessness, over/under eating, extended sadness for no immediate explanation, extended traumatic play, lack of focus/concentration, and nightmares.
The national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides more information about coping strategies and how children and adults are affected by and react to tragedy. Click here for more information.