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How to Help Children Cope With Tragedy

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ways you can help your child deal with tragedy David Castillo Dominici/PhotoSpin

Recently, the nation wrestled with the fear and emotional uncertainty resulting from the Boston marathon explosions and ensuing events. We question how: how could this happen? How could these people do such a thing? And, for so many adults and children alike, we may feel a loss of stability and threatened security. A child’s understanding of such a frightening event is very personal. Since children operate from the realm of their own experience and egocentricity, they may feel particularly threatened now and believe that bombs could be dropped on them.

If our children don’t view coverage of tragic events on television, they may hear about them from classmates or teachers. How can parents cope with their own anxieties while reassuring their children that they are safe?

Communicating with children is the key to restoring their security and balance. Here are some ways you can help talk to your child about tragic events.

  1. Ask your child questions, and gently encourage them with follow-up questions to help them verbalize their emotions. Let them know that there are no “wrong” feelings, and allow them to share without interruption.
  2. Share your own feelings in an illustrative manner to show them how they can express their feelings. Sentences such as “I was so frightened that I felt the same way you feel when you get into an elevator sometimes and your stomach drops” helps describe feelings literally. This helps give them concrete references for their emotions.
  3. Try to maintain your family’s daily routine. The confusing emotions surrounding a tragedy can be destabilizing for children, so it is a good idea to restore a sense of normalcy as quickly as possible.
  4. Partner with your children to create a family emergency plan. This can restore balance and control to a child’s psyche. If they feel involved in creating their own security, they will feel empowered. After a plan is invoked, practice and rehearse it with your children through modeling and role-playing.
  5. Take positive action.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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