How to be with your children after tragic murders

Our hearts and prayers are with everyone hurt by today’s tragic school shooting.  Let’s take special care of the children in grief.  Thanks to the Children’s Advocacy Center and Children’s National Medicine Center for this timely information.
Helping Children Cope After a School Shooting
by Children’s Advocacy Center of Jackson County on Friday, December 14, 2012 at 2:45pm ·

In response to a school shooting tragedy, many children may have questions and concerns. The ICHOC offers the following suggestions to help guide parents, teachers, and caring adults to best support children who may be grieving, concerned, or troubled by the school shooting:

Be Supportive

  •  Children will benefit greatly from support and caring expressed by the adults in their lives. Create an environment in your home or classroom that encourages respect for each other’s feelings and fears, and allows for a supportive, healing environment.

Be Available

  •  Let children know that you are available to talk with them.
  •  Let children ask questions.
  •  It is ok if you do not have answers to all the questions. It is ok to let your child know that you do not have the answer but that you will try and find out.

Be Caring

  • Let children know about the support being provided to students, friends, and families of the victims.
  • Be aware of children who may have experienced a previous trauma and may be more vulnerable to experiencing prolonged or intense reactions and will need extra support.

Be Reassuring

  • Acknowledge the frightening parts of the event.
  • Explain what happened in words that children understand. Explanations should be appropriate to the child’s age, developmental stage, and language skills.
  • Reassure children that they are loved and will be taken care of.
  • Children who have concerns about siblings who are living on a college campus or have concerns about safety at their own school should be reassured and their concerns validated.

Be Thoughtful

  • Be aware of how you talk about the event and cope with the tragedy. Children learn about how to react to traumatic situations by watching and listening to parents, peers, and the media.
  • Reduce or eliminate your child’s exposure to television images and news coverage of the shooting. The frightening images and repetition of the scenes can be disturbing for children. If they do see coverage, be sure to talk with them about what they saw and what they understood about the coverage. Make sure to correct any misunderstanding or misinterpretations.
  • Maintain your child’s routine as best as possible.

Be Creative

  • For children who are too young to talk or do not feel comfortable talking about their feelings, expressive techniques such as play, art and music can provide additional ways for children to express their feelings and let you know what may be troubling them.

Many behaviors and symptoms of stress are normal for children who have just experienced a trauma. However, if you find that your child is preoccupied with the event, has ongoing sleep or eating disturbances, is experiencing intrusive thoughts or worries, is focused on fears about death, or is having difficulty going to school and leaving parents, your child should be evaluated by a mental health professional. Contact your pediatrician, family physician, or school counselor if you feel that the symptoms are persisting and are interfering with your child’s daily routines.

For more information and resources about children and traumatic stress, please visit our website at www.dcchildrens.com/ichoc. Fact sheets and other resources for parents, schools and professionals are available under the Resource section.

Copyright © by Children’s National Medical Center

Department of Psychiatry

International Center to Heal Our Children

Fact Sheets for Healing Series

The puzzle pieces of our new life

I heard my daughter tell a friend, “Puzzles are the only holiday tradition we have.”

Wow, I suppose that’s true in a way.  After her dad died in 2004, I have tried to make the holidays special each year, but haven’t found anything the sticks year after year except our ritual of buying new jigsaw puzzles, bringing out the card table, and setting up for evenings of puzzling.   As we sat down the other night, I wondered about this tradition since our loss – the satisfaction of seeing the beautiful images unfold before our eyes as we fit the pieces together, a symbolic road map through grief.  Michael’s death brought a sense of chaos and uncertainty to our lives — the pieces didn’t fit in the way they had.  Not much about the holidays made sense to me, either.  What got us through year after year was the patient step by step, trying and failing, trying again and succeeding, bringing a chaotic mess of little pieces into something organized.  And now, I’d say that life does make sense.  This year we picked easier puzzles and we’ve already completed two.  I suppose the easy puzzles reflect that life is easier this holiday season.  We are blessed to have each other and a tradition that has helped us through this difficult time of year.

Helping Kids by Teaching Teachers about Grief

Photo by Jason Henry for the SF Chronicle

It takes lots of caring adults to help kids through grief. We had a conversation with the Medford School District this week about bringing our bereavement training into the schools — because teachers and other adults often don’t know how to help a youth in pain from a loss. It’s nice to see that this important work is being embraced in other places.  See this San Francisco Chronicle article.

Children’s Grief and the Power of Ritual

This story comes from Angel DeShane, our Children’s Program Coordinator.

At the end of the Children’s Program in the Spring, we honor the work the children have done by having a rock ceremony. Each child gets to pick a beautiful smooth polished stone from the box. I explain how our grief is like a tumbled stone — we start off rough in our grief journey and as we heal and grow, like a rock in a tumbler, we begin to get smooth and life gets a bit better. I also give each child a rough stone which I pick out of the street at my house, just simple gravel, signifying that there will often be days that are going to be rough.

As we were finishing up, I noticed one little girl was searching the ground. “What did you lose?” I asked.

“I lost my rock” she said. I told her it was OK, because I had more in the car and she could pick a new one. I got out the box of beautiful polished stones  and opened it for her to pick a new one.

She looked in the box and said, “No not the smooth one…I lost my rough stone.”

At this point one of the other little girls said, “Just pick one up off the ground.”

“No,” she said, “It has to be a special one that Angel gives us or it won’t be the same.”

I felt so honored in that moment that I thought my heart would burst. To be a part of the journey these children are on is such a gift.

Angel says she looks forward to working with new and returning children to our program this month. Thanks, Angel, for all you do for these kids!