HELPING CHILDREN COPE WITH NATIONAL TRAGEDY:
GUIDELINES FOR EDUCATORS AND PARENTS
Events such as the current tragedy our country is experiencing
are, in truth, beyond our control. However, what is within
our control is our response to them. The following guidelines
suggest some strategies to help adults to assist children in responding
to and dealing with this tragedy.
- Adults must identify and come to terms with their own feelings
before they will be able to assist children in dealing with
theirs. Expression of the shock, disbelief and anger that are
common initial reactions to trauma is the critical first step
for adults. The intensity of feelings is often diminished once
they are expressed and validated. This process will also serve
as an example for children about the importance of putting what
we feel inside into words.
- All feelings that are expressed by children should be accepted
and validated ("I understand how confused you are about
what is happening", "I know that you are angry, and
its okay to feel that way"). It is also important
to reassure children that all of their responses are normal,
and that even adults feel confused, angry and scared.
- Children may want to review the events over and over. This
strategy is also used by adults and helps in coming to terms
with the tragedy. This is a normal response to events for which
we have no prior frame of reference. Be patient with both children
and adults who may be using this coping technique.
- Children will be affected and frightened by observing the
emotions expressed by adults. In particular:
A) They may see adults crying about potential losses or
crying with relief over unexpected rescues. Explain to children
that crying is the bodys way to express intense emotions.
Reassure them that they can offer support to grownups who
might be in tears by using the same techniques adults use
to comfort them when they are crying.
B) Children may also hear adults express anger and rage.
Acknowledge that anger is a common response, yet remind
children that the government will be investigating what
happened to make sure that the appropriate people are punished
and we must be careful about whom we blame in the meantime.
- Recognize the impact of the media on children. Television
accounts have been very graphic and newspaper stories often
include dramatic images of disaster. When children are exposed
to media, make sure to ask them how they felt about what they
have seen or read.
- Limiting television viewing of the events and their aftermath
is one way both children and adults can get some emotional distance
from the events. Constant viewing and reviewing of what happened
keeps the events fresh in our minds and reinforces their intensity.
- Maintaining normal routine as much as possible is helpful.
The example set by our government officials of going about business
as usual is a helpful example which should be used by individuals
and schools as well. In times of crisis, the structure and order
of the environment is critical in helping to restore feelings
of safety and of being in control.
- Make sure children and adults who were personally effected
by this trauma get extra help. Local mental health resources
are prepared and ready to provide counseling and support to
individuals and families touched by this tragedy. Make use of
these services! Seeking immediate help can lessen long term
- It is critical for both adults and children to remember that
we can be reassured that our government is doing everything
it can to provide for our safety. While our county may have
experienced a crisis, it is also important to keep in mind that
our national resources have also been mobilized to protect us.
As Senator Joseph Biden reminded us in his remarks to the country,
in moments of crisis, the American spirit shines
forth as courageous, dauntless, and enduring."