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Perspectives on Grieving

Talking with Children about Tragic Events - After Las Vegas

An unimaginable tragedy happened last night.  We cannot avoid the tension in the air and the fact that many of our children will probably know about it before we figure out what to say to them, thanks to 24/7 news and social media.  So while we gather our own thoughts and process our own emotions, we must also figure out what to say to the children, and how to be supportive to them.

 Here are some suggestions to follow as you try to discuss these events with your children:

  • Limit exposure to the media as much as possible, especially for the youngest of children. After 9/11, there were numerous stories about children believing that thousands of buildings were falling down. The reality was that they saw the same building falling down many times but did not understand that.
  • Talk to your children about the event in a safe, comfortable setting, like your own home. Tell them what you know, but don’t give explicit details unless they are asking for them. If they do ask, ask them what they know already so you can confirm or clarify any misunderstandings. It is also important to point out that many people survived, reached safety, helped each other and received immediate medical care.
  • Acknowledge your own feelings, as well as the feelings of your children. Saying things like, “I feel really sad and scared. How do you feel?” normalizes to them that it’s OK to have all sorts of feelings. This can also lead to a discussion about healthy ways to cope with difficult feelings and opportunities to take good care of ourselves when we are stressed/anxious/angry.
  • Keep close tabs on your child’s behavior, especially if they have experienced a death or have other stressors in their lives. Behavior is one way that children communicate their needs, so if you notice an increase in aggression, tearfulness, or clinginess, your child may be telling you that they are in need of some extra attention. Also be aware that some children do not exhibit different behaviors when stressed, so the lack of attention-seeking responses does not mean that the child is not affected. Give all children extra companioning and love following mass violence.
  • Explore Self-Care Strategies: Let children and teens know that there are ways to feel better as we cope with uncomfortable feelings. Help them identify what provides relief and support. Encourage them to use those strategies, especially talking to others about their feelings. Read/tell a favorite story before bed, offer a favorite food or drink, play favorite or relaxing music, practice some deep breathing, give/get a hug, talk, and depending on your beliefs, pray or meditate.
  • Check in the next morning: how did your family sleep, were there any dreams, disturbing thoughts, etc.
  • Seek professional help if needed. Despite the fact that these occurrences are becoming all too familiar, we are not always equipped to have these conversations and provide the right support to our children. Reach out to a professional for advice or support for yourself.

Please call Imagine, A Center for Coping with Loss, if you or your children need additional support at 908-264-3100 or info@imaginenj.org.

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