Dealing With Tragedy

When terrorism, disaster or any traumatic incident occurs, we struggle to make sense of what happened. Although there may not have visible signs of injury, it is common for people who have experienced or witnessed one of these events to have very strong emotional reactions. And as parents, we worry what this means for children.

Talking to Kids About ViolenceTalking to Children about Violence

Tragic events can leave children feeling insecure and unsure of their world.
Children crave security — knowing they are safe and loved. Their developing brains depend on this need being met in order to grow into healthy well-adjusted adults. Adults’ reactions to shootings, stabbings and other violent acts affect the children around them. It is important to decide how you want to discuss the events with your children. We can often, without realizing, pass on our own fears to our children.

Children are concrete thinkers.

They cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy. So, images on screen that they see can trigger fears and anxieties each time these images are viewed. If possible, limit screen exposure to ongoing news coverage of the events.

Recognize that misinterpretations may occur when children see these images. They may think it is happening over and over again, or has happened in their neighborhood. They may not verbalize this fear. Anxiety and fear shows up in children’s behaviors.

Listen more than talk.

Despite common developmental stage characteristics, each child is unique. Listening to questions and answering concretely and honestly is helpful for children. For example, if your child asks questions about the shootings, instead of trying to shift the subject or provide a lot of details, respond by validating how they are feeling “Yes, what happened is scary” and then follow up with a question, such as “Tell me more about what you’ve heard.”

This can provide you with some direction in how to respond with a truthful assurance, “You are in a safe place now,” or “Mom and Dad are here to listen to how you are feeling about this.” It also gives you an opportunity to correct misconceptions such as children thinking this happened close to home or will happen to them next time they go to school.

Maintain a predictable routine.

This is important in the face of this unpredictable event. It helps to address the anxiety that goes with the new uncertainty in their worldview.

Remember that how adults react affects the children around them. Adults need to process their own fears and anxieties with other adults, out of range of children. Many adults are struggling as well. It is difficult to process, maybe more so for adults,the enormity of the lives that have been forever changed by one person’s actions.

Below are some recommended links that may be helpful:*

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

National Institute of Mental Health

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

How Pine Rest Can Help

Critical Incidence Response. Pine Rest’s specially trained consultants are available immediately 24/7 in the time of crisis to provide expert support to leaders of organizations. We’re available via phone, video conference or in person/on the ground support for your organization to help employees deal with unforeseen traumatic events such as workplace accidents involving the death of a co-worker, suicide of a co-worker, robberies, violence, natural disasters, and more. If you’re interested in learning more for your business, church or organization, call 616.281.6305.

Counseling/Outpatient Services. Pine Rest clinicians are available at outpatient locations throughout Michigan and Iowa to provide confidential and professional counseling services for all members of the family. To schedule a new outpatient appointment, call 866.852.4001.

Resources from the American Psychological Association*

We have collected these additional links to help provide you with the resources when you or a loved one may be dealing with tragedy.

  • 9 Tips for Supporting Someone After a Loved One Dies

    By Bob VandePol, MSW Supporting someone after a loved one dies provides a daunting challenge. Those you reach out to will never forget your response. Neither will you. The following suggestions have proven helpful: 1. Listening is the most effective communication tool....
  • Caring For Yourself When There’s Traumatic News

    Do you have a smart phone? Regularly access news on the internet? Check in often on your social media accounts like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.? If you do, you are probably getting ample exposure to the news and media. If...
  • The Do’s and Don’t’s for Responding Spiritually to Tragedy

    By Bob Vandepol, MSW Spirituality often becomes more important to us in times of tragedy, loss, suffering and illness because it connects us to both our higher power and those around us, helps us to find meaning and purpose, and...

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