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

What do kids in grief really feel?

New York LifNyl_con_griefjourneye is doing great work for understanding kids in grief.  They say in their recent study: Kids value communication about loss, but feel it’s lacking: Many say “most people don’t know how to talk to you after a loved one dies.”   The study also says that schools score poorly in helping these kids cope. That’s why programs like WinterSpring’s Teen Grief Groups are so important.  As school budgets get cut, kids get less and less support from staff and thus the nonprofits like us who go into the schools become even more important to the health of children, teens and their families.

http://newyorklife.com/childhood_loss_nationwide_poll

And see this short video on how children feel:  

http://www.newyorklife.com/nyl/v/index.jsp?contentId=150745&vgnextoid=8a38df24af116310VgnVCM100000ac841cacRCRD

A beautiful story of living after deep loss

http://www.mailtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120603/NEWS/206030322/-1/NEWSLETTER100

Children are resilient when given a safe space to grieve

As I looked through a file this morning, I ran into this quote from our volunteer, Liz Axness:

WinterSpring allows me to see the beauty, empathy and precious resiliency of children travelling their grief path. The children become a family of survivors that are connected through their losses. And yet, WinterSpring’s Children’s Group is joyful, sometimes wild, and often contemplative and deeper than any adult could devise.  (May 2011)

Each day that I learn more about this place I get to work, I am amazed that the wonderful volunteers are moved to support children, teens, and adults through their grief process.  When adults can make a difference in a child’s life, the world is truly a better place.

The fascinating path of surviving grief

(This essay was published on April 9, 2012 in the Ashland Daily Tidings.)

Even now, eight years later, I can still conjure up Michael’s voice on the other end of the phone line:  “How’s our little Bunny?” he would have said, checking in on our six year old daughter after returning from his surfing trip to Mexico. 

But his call never came. He died of heart failure on the beach.  And I still expected that call for days, weeks and months afterward.  Even though we had divorced the previous year, we remained close friends with a commitment to raising Emma together.  And now he was gone.

I had experienced other losses – a favorite aunt, two grandmothers, and a second-trimester miscarriage. But Michael’s death changed my life forever and I was shocked by the maze of complexity as I learned to navigate as a “widow” without any widow’s rights. 

I faced a community of folks who blamed me for the divorce and a daughter mired in the loss of her beloved daddy. 

No rights to his things, bound by a will he wrote without a lawyer, hounded by his unfinished business:  a life insurance policy still in my name that the estate lawyer said wasn’t rightfully mine and my basement filled with his tools and miscellaneous junk.  The callousness of his friends astounded me as they vied for his outdoor gear and personal effects. Even though I was left to raise our daughter alone, I felt invisible in the process of settling his affairs.

Where was my support system?  I had many friends who rallied around us.  And thankfully we could afford counseling.  Mostly, we limped through without a roadmap to grief and survived it.  But the dreary climate of Bellingham, WA, where I had lived for 26 years, became a heavy reminder of our tragedy. I needed a change.

Four years later, we moved to Ashland for a fresh start. I’ve watched my daughter thrive in this community.  Me too…but I never could have guessed it would take me three years to find a job here.  And yet, the waiting now makes sense.  When I interviewed with WinterSpring last November, I felt like I had found “my people” in this small nonprofit providing group bereavement support for kids and adults.  I sat with three passionate Board members, each of them drawn to WinterSpring because of their own deep losses, and I felt my heart open as we discussed bereavement and how to pull the organization out of financial stress.

I wish we had found a similar organization eight years ago.  Group support would have helped me make some sense of the chaos and to feel less alone. My daughter would have had a place to access her grief in a healthy, supportive process.  Currently, Emma is attending a teen grief support group at Ashland Middle School and appreciates the opportunity to share with peers.  We both took the recent WinterSpring volunteer training, because there’s always more to learn about travelling through grief toward the joys of living fully again.

This job gives me an opportunity to offer bereaved people the very thing Emma and I needed most.  My compassion grows daily for those who stumble through grief when a loved one dies, and I hope to expand our reach into the community to help more people find joy in life again. I am passionate about serving such a worthy cause and honored to be their new Executive Director.  

 

http://www.dailytidings.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120409/NEWS02/204090303