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|Quick reference medical handouts used
by Pediatric offices
Talking with Children about Today's Tragic Events
The tragic events of today, which are still unfolding as this article
is prepared, will certainly impact on the children we care about. So what
is a parent, teacher, or other caring adult to do when terror fills the airways.
Don't assume that the kids don't know about it. They have already
heard from friends and probably know more than you think. The reality of
today's world is that news travels far and wide. Adults and children learn
about disasters and tragedies shortly after they occur, and live video footage
with close-ups and interviews are part of the report. Children and youth
are exposed to the events as soon as they can watch TV or interact with others
who are consumers of the news. Not talking about it does not protect
children. In fact, you may communicate that the subject is taboo and
that you are unavailable if you remain silent.
Be available and "askable." Let kids know that it is okay to talk
about the unpleasant events. Listen to what they think and feel. By listening,
you can find out if they have misunderstandings, and you can learn more about
the support that they need. You do not need to explain more than they are
ready to hear, but be willing to answer their questions.
Share your feelings. Tell young people if you feel angry and frustrated
about today's events. It can help them to know that others also are upset
by the events. They might feel that only children are struggling. If you
tell them about your feelings, you also can tell them about how you deal
with the feelings. Be careful not to overwhelm them or expect them to find
answers for you.
Help children use creative outlets like art and music to express their
feelings. Children may not be comfortable or skilled with words, especially
in relation to difficult situations. Using art, puppets, music, or books
might help children open up about their reactions. They may want to draw
pictures and then destroy them, or they could want to display them or send
them to someone else. Be flexible and listen.
Reassure young people and help them feel safe. When tragic
events occur, children may be afraid that the same will happen to them. Some
young children may even think that it already did happen to them. It is important
to let them know that they are not at risk-if they are not. Try to be realistic
as you reassure them, however. You can try to support them and protect them,
but you can not keep all bad things from happening to children. You can always
tell them that you love them, though. You can say that, no matter what happens,
your love will be with them. That is realistic, and often that is all the
children need to feel better.
Support children's concern for people they do not know. Children often
are afraid not only for themselves, but also for people they do not even
know. They learn that many people are getting hurt or are experiencing pain
in some way. They worry about those people and their well being. In some
cases they might feel less secure or cared for themselves if they see that
others are hurting. It is heartwarming and satisfying to observe this level
of caring in children.
Look for feelings beyond fear. After reassuring kids, don't stop there.
Studies have shown that children also may feel sad or angry. Let them express
that full range of emotions. Support the development of caring and empathy.
Be careful not to encourage the kind of response given by one child: "I don't
care if there's a war, as long as it doesn't affect me and my family."
Help children and youth find a course of action. One important way
to reduce stress is to take action. This is true for both adults and children.
The action may be very simple or more complex. Children may want to write
a letter to someone about their feelings, get involved in an organization
committed to preventing events like the one they are dealing with, or send
money to help victims or interventionists. Let the young people help to identify
the action choices. They may have wonderful ideas.
Take action and get involved in something. It is not enough to let
children take action by themselves. Children who know that their parents,
teachers, or other significant caregivers are working to make a difference
feel hope. They feel safer and more positive about the future. So do something.
It will make you feel more hopeful, too. And hope is one of the most valuable
gifts we can give children and ourselves.
As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as
medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your childs pediatrician.
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