Tragic events such as the recent mass shooting at a Florida high school are difficult for anyone to comprehend. Diane Snyder Cowan, director of Western Reserve Grief Services, offers the following tips for talking to children after a tragedy:
1. Process through the tragedy before speaking with children.
2. Remain calm. Your ability to manage emotions will help your child manage their feelings and build coping skills.
3. Allow yourself and your children to be angry and question why horrible things like this happen.
4. Answer questions in an age-appropriate manner. It is okay if you cannot answer certain questions. “I don’t know,” is an acceptable answer.
5. Be honest about your feelings. Sharing your feelings and fears with your children gives them a sense of hope and validates their emotions.
6. Be aware this event could trigger grief reactions related to recent deaths or other traumatic events in your family’s life.
7. Remember, your child may need to revisit the event and ask the same question repeatedly in an effort to understand their emotions and process the event.
8. Provide a safe place to share feelings or discuss nightmares.
9. Consider taking a break from TV and radio news and limiting the use of social media.
10. Ask about the emergency security protocol at your child’s school. Share with children to promote a sense of safety.
Locally, the bereavement center at Hospice of the Western Reserve – now called Western Reserve Grief Services – offers a School Crisis Response Program. More information is available at hospicewr.org/griefandloss.