Speaking to children about tragedy - New York News

Advice on speaking to children about tragedy

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Parents across the nation had to sit down with their children on Friday afternoon and explain a deadly mass shooting inside a Connecticut elementary school.

In such tragic moments that are hard for even adults to understand, many parents could find themselves unprepared to comfort their children.

The National Association of School Psychologists has created a list of tips for parents on how to deal with national tragedy.

Here are the NASP's tips:

Model calm and control. NASP experts say children take their emotional cues from the adults in their lives. Adults should try to avoid appearing anxious or frightened.

- Reassure children that they and their loved ones are safe. The NASP says parents can point out specific reasons why they are safe from danger.

-  Remind them that trustworthy people are in charge. The NASP suggests telling children about the various government officials, such as police, who are working to ensure that no other tragedies occur.

Tell children it is okay to feel upset. NASP experts say parents should give children the opportunity to talk about their feelings and help them understand why they may be feeling that way. It is also important to tell them it is okay to have feelings, even anger, about national tragedies.

-  Observe the child's emotional state. Not all children may express their feelings verbally. The NASP says parents should consider the child's age and focus on nonverbal signs, such as sleep, appetite, and behavior when evaluating their emotional state.

Look for children at greater risk. Some children who have suffered from personal loss, had a previous traumatic experience, or suffer from mental illness may have a stronger reaction to national tragedy than others. Parents should contact professionals if they feel their child is reacting dangerously to tragedy.

-  Tell children the truth. The NASP says parents shouldn't try to downplay the event. Children could be even more worried if they think their parents are too scared to tell them what happening.

-  Stick to the facts. NASP experts say parents should not embellish on what happened or what might happen as a result of the tragedy. They also say not to dwell on the scale of the tragedy.

-  Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate. NASP says elementary school children need brief and simple info with explanations of why they are safe and why their lives will not change. The older the child is, the more questions and opinions they will likely have.

-  Monitor your own stress level. Experts say parents need to take care of themselves as well by talking to loved ones and other community leaders about their own feelings of grief and anger.

The NASP also says parents should focus on their child over the week following the tragedy, maintain a normal routine, and spend extra time reading or playing quiet games with their child before bed.

To read more from the NASP: click here.

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