Helping Your Child After a Tragedy

Dec 20th, 2012 | By admin | Category: News and Features

By Dr. Tammy Alexander

Special to The Beebe News

Attempting to understand and move forward following an incomprehensible tragedy, such as the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School, is a challenge for both adults and children. A parent’s reaction and communication with children can make a significant difference in the child’s adjustment following such disasters. The following are a few ideas which can help assist parents in helping their children.

1. Limit exposure to the disaster.

Following disasters, media reports dominate the television, radio, and internet news/social media. In an attempt to learn more and try to make sense of the tragedy, we are often glued to the media reports. While it is good to be informed, excessive exposure can have a negative impact not only on adults, but especially on children and youth. When children see these images and hear the stories repeatedly they may have difficulty discerning the actualities of the situation, i.e. that it is a very rare occurrence and that it did not happen near them.

2. Keep to your normal routines.

Children, and most adults, need routines. Routines provide comfort and a sense of stability. Getting back to your regular routine gives children a sense that life goes on despite challenges and promotes resilience.

3. Provide honest information and reassurance appropriate for the child’s developmental level.

Take cues from your child’s questions and interest level and provide factual information in the most brief manner necessary to answer questions. Provide reassurance noting that you, the parent, and other adults whose job it is to keep them safe (teachers, school staff, police, etc.) will do everything possible to keep them safe. Express your confidence in these adults and their commitment to keeping your child safe.  Provide hope and remind your child that there are things they can do also to help stay safe, such as paying attention to safety drills at school, etc.

Don’t over-promise making statements such as “I promise nothing bad will ever happen to you”. Instead make reassuring, but honest statements such as “I promise we will do everything possible to keep you safe”.

4. Involve your child/family in activities focused on helping others.

Acknowledge the tragedy and loss and take specific action to help in some way whether it is through your church, community service organizations, or other volunteer opportunities. Research has consistently shown that those who are involved in activities focused on something “larger than oneself” are happier and more content than those who are solely focused on self.

These are some brief reminders for helping you, and your child, to move forward following challenging and traumatic times.  Additional resources may be found at the American Psychological Association website or at fema.gov.

Dr. Tammy Alexander is a local psychologist who has worked for many years with children/families and with disaster services.