Assisting Our Children Through A Tragedy Among Us
Our job as parents is to provide a safe and healthy space for our children to become healthy adults. Sometimes tragedy occurs close to home. In light of the recent event that occurred in our area, where a 7 year old was killed by her father who then committed suicide, I felt it would be helpful to write a blog on how to help your children to process this tragedy.
The first line of defense is to remain calm and open to whatever questions your children have for you. It is important to answer them as honestly as you can in an age appropriate way.
If you are anxious they will pick up on your energy and become anxious as well. So, please breathe and release your own emotions prior to speaking with them.
If your child starts to have questions about whether they will be hurt in some way, reassure them, they are safe. Have them repeat “I am safe” to help it sink in. Explain this is a rare occurrence.
Try to keep their structure and daily routines the same. Children feel safest when they experience consistency and safety. Since scary things are unpredictable, falling back on predictable events in their lives helps them return to feeling safe.
Whether your child knew the other child or not, they may experience grief reactions which are an appropriate response. They may cry one moment and play the next. The playing is a way for them to balance the grief response. They may feel sad, anxious, depressed, angry or guilty which are all normal responses to grief. Finding outlets to express their grief is important. These outlets can be drawing pictures, telling stories, looking at photos of the person who died or reading age appropriate books about grieving. Your mindful presence in the moment is healing to your child. Young children may not realize death is permanent.
Some parents choose to let their children attend funerals. Funerals can provide closure and may be helpful to some children. This is really your choice. If a parent is close to the deceased they may not want the child at the funeral because it will be distracting from their own grief. There are alternative ways the children can express their grief. Some examples are, planting a tree for the deceased person or releasing a balloon to provide closure.
If your child starts to experience nightmares, panic about going to school, separation anxiety, or obsessing about the event it would be time to reach out for professional help. Keep in mind sometimes children will not start acting out behaviorally for three months after an event. So, even if they seem fine now, keep an eye on them over the next several months.
If you are unsure if your child is experiencing symptoms that need professional assistance, I would be happy to offer a free phone consultation to find the appropriate action. Contact me at 215-352-4400 or [email protected]