Once again, we’re being bombarded by the graphic images of devastation. For parents, it becomes a difficult challenge: how to offer emotional support to our children in the wake of a tragedy. In the new book, On Grief and Grieving, Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss (Simon & Schuster, $25), by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, has a chapter of helping children deal with loss. Kessler, the co-author with the late Kubler-Ross of Life Lessons, offers these timely tips for parents:
10 Ways to Help Children In Uncertain Times
1. Do not try to keep what’s going on from your kids. Even elementary school kids talk about world events, bombings and terrorist attacks. Your family style may be to protect the kids from this reality, but many other families are telling their kids, and then all kids talk to each other in school. 2. During the unfolding of a tragic event, most television is live and you cannot anticipate what your children may see. Turn on the radio or show them pre-recorded news broadcasts instead.
3. Talk to your kids about the event that is happening in simple language that they can understand, that is age-appropriate (i.e., some bad people put a bomb on a train, or some bad men stole a plane and crashed it. Some people are hurt and some have died).
4. Reassure the kids about their safety. Tell them that while this is important, most of the world is safe and the area you live in is safe. Also, reassure them that the police, security and many other government officials are doing a lot of things to keep them safe.
5. Children need words. Tell them what you are feeling, what you think about the situation. Then, encourage them to talk about what they think. It is important to validate their feelings and clear up any misunderstanding and misinformation they have.
6. Be proactive and find ways to help. Say a prayer, light a candle, give blood, go to your place of worship. You and your kids can donate some money to an organization that is helping with the situation. Make sure some of it comes from your kids, no matter how small the amount.
7. Reassure your kids a little more, watch them a little more, and perform obvious gestures that show you are keeping them safe and watching over them. Remember kids may have illogical fears.
8. Kids grieve very differently from adults. They may not talk about things for weeks or months. Be available to talk to them about their grief whenever it may come up.
9. Keep as many normal routines going, but allow a little extra time, knowing that grief is exhausting for you and your children. Routines are very important, because doing normal things in abnormal times help us to feel normal again.
10. Remember, for your kids and for yourself, the concept of possible vs. probable. Terrorist attacks are possible anywhere, anytime, but they are not probable in our lives today. While events may be tragic, try to put losses in perspective that many things we do are risky in life, but we do them because fear does not stop death; fear stops life.