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How to Support Children following Tragedy

In Child Counselling, Grief Counselling, Individual Counselling by Emily Smith, M.S.W., R.S.W.Leave a Comment

It may seem that everyday we are faced with another daily news cycle filled with tragedy. Sadly, it is not uncommon to be faced with horrific news stories, both here at home, across the country or around the globe and it can be difficult to reconcile our thoughts and feelings on that. As parents, there is the added challenge of knowing what to say or how to support our children following tragedy. It is normal to want to shield a child from the horrors that happen in the world and to prevent worry. However, it is important to consider that without an explanation and understanding that is developmentally appropriate for their age, children are at risk of making up their own story, and/or getting their answers from peers at school. In wanting to protect children from unnecessary worry and concern it is far more beneficial to show our children that we are present and engaged for these very difficult conversations.

Start by acknowledging to yourself that these conversations are not easy and it is okay to not know exactly what to say, children don’t need a perfectly scripted dialogue. A helpful and appropriate place to start is to check in with your child or children; what do they know about the recent events? What have they heard and from where or whom? Do they have any questions that they would like answered? What are they feeling? Is there anything else they would like to talk about? If your child does not have any questions and/or does not know anything about the event then share with them the facts as you know them keeping their age and development in mind and then check in with them again. It is crucial that we designate enough time to this conversation and to the feelings associated to it.

When talking to children about serious topics, it is essential to keep our answers concise, on point and not to elaborate beyond the questions that are asked. It is also okay to acknowledge that there are aspects about this event that we do not understand or cannot explain. Ultimately, just sitting with them in their feelings and as Brené Brown suggests, share in our own vulnerability appropriately, can support them as they navigate the world.

Don’t forget the teenagers; they may look and talk like adults but their brains are still developing and therefore they continue to need support and guidance regarding the information they have access to. While it is important to refrain from normalizing these devastating events, it is important to acknowledge that feelings of fear, anxiety and sadness are normal. Helping older children to move from worry to the present moment is essential in supporting emotion regulation.

We need to turn to one another for support rather than media coverage and social media platforms that will have fear divide us. When we are one, we are a voice, but not as strong as when we are a community. Speaking with our children and asking them to restrict their engagement with these sources is imperative in supporting their emotions, thoughts and belief system. Person to person conversations are best when possible as we can get lost behind a screen of endless news stories, and feel overwhelmed. The media creates headlines meant to grab readers and they do that through evoking fear and anxiety. As parents we can support our children by ensuring that they take breaks from the screens, apps and social media because they do not know when to turn it off. Actually, we can all benefit from taking those breaks, so get up from the computer and connect with someone you love.

To find out more about supporting children or to inquire about our services contact Calming Tree Counselling today.

Emily has over 5 years of experience working alongside children, youth, and their families. She provides client-centred counselling to individuals, couples, groups, and families. Emily provides play based counselling with children from any and all ethnicities, family structures, sexual identities, and trauma histories. She works with families who have or are experiencing mental health issues, self-harm and suicidal ideation. Emily supports children with histories of abuse, neglect, domestic violence, foster care, divorce, loss, struggles at school, issues with social skill development and bullying.

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