How to Support Children After Tragedy


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How to Support Children After the Sandy Hook Tragedy
By Lynn Louise Wonders, LPC, RPT-S, E-RYT

Tragic events happen in the world every day and with today’s age of information technology images and reports are readily available on television and social media. Twenty first graders were killed by a gunman in their classroom and now their faces are posted all over Facebook, Instagram and the local and national news. It’s on the radio. It’s what we are talking about in public and in private. This makes it impossible to avoid talking to our children about what happened.

As a children’s therapist, I have received calls and e-mails from parents and teachers asking for my guidance on how to talk to the children. I have been delivering the following advice:

1. Adults, take care of your own grieving heart. Make certain you have other adults, outside of the earshot of your children, with whom you can talk and process your own emotions of despair and outrage. It is important for adults to be authentic when discussing the tragedy with children, but not overly emotional. Don’t deny your sadness and anger but try to get to a place of calm and solid ground when you are with your children. Find appropriate time and place to express and work through the grip of those emotions. Attend to your own self-care. When emotion rises, take a brisk walk as you feel your feelings. Take deep, full breaths as you feel these emotions. Journal or talk about your feelings with a therapist trained in grief counseling or other trusted adults.

2. Turn the news off. Don’t keep the television or radio news on within your children’s hearing or viewing. Be selective about what you expose yourself and your children to in terms of news. When the television is left on during a tragedy like this, graphic images and reports that you and your children may not be ready to see and hear can cause unnecessary stress and even trauma. Rather than watching the television, visit trusted news sites on the Internet and read articles rather than watching video clips. This provides information without all the sensationalized or over-exposed reporting that can cause psychological trauma potentially.

3. Monitor social media activity and exposure. It is my opinion that children under the age of 13 should not have access to their own social media accounts and should not have access to browsing the Internet without close supervision of parents or trusted adults. There is too much risk of exposure to images and information that is not healthy for children at this age. Once children are 13 years old they can have a Facebook and Instagram account but be certain you have access and are monitoring their activity within reason. They should be permitted age appropriate privacy in terms of private messages with friends but it is wise to let them know it is your job to keep them safe and while you are not going to snoop into their private messages, you do need to have access to their social media accounts and will be checking in. This provides a window into your child’s social world and sometimes a view of what they are feeling they might not otherwise tell you. Keep the dialogue going with children over 13 about what they may be seeing on the Internet with regard to this tragedy.

3. Observe normal routines. As much as possible, keep your family on its normal schedule and observe normal routines. This provides children with an experience of security.

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Lynn Louise Wonders is a licensed professional counselor, registered play therapist supervisor and experienced registered yoga teacher. She is Owner of Wonders Counseling Services, LLC where she provides counseling support for women, children and couples as well as training for mental health professionals as well as consultation and classes in yoga, meditation and nutrition. Lynn is a guest speaker on parenting and child development, a Child Specialist through the Collaborative Law Institute of Georgia.