How to Talk to Kids After a Tragic Event
By Lauren De Lay-Curcio
In light of the tragedy in Florida last week, we wanted to share some tips on approaching this situation, and other tragic moments, in various therapy settings.
DotCom Therapy’s expert therapists weigh in alongside tips curated by PyschCentral.Com and the American School Counselor Association to bring you five things to think about as you navigate the space following a tragic situation.
Without looking to respond, just hear what each student is feeling and thinking. It’s important to create a safe space to allow kids to share their emotions (as complicated as they may be). In listening, PsychCentral.com recommends staying alert for heightened emotions that may lead to anxiety. If you are concerned about any abnormal behavior, steps should be taken to connect the student with a school counselor to help them cope appropriately.
Be Honest (to the point they can handle).
Once you understand how the students feel, share with them the facts of the situation in a developmentally appropriate manner. Try using language they understand, without adding more fear or anxiety to their plates. PsychCentral.com recommends not going "into specific details with young children, because it will often be more scary and less understood than those who are older.” Sources also suggest limiting exposure to news regarding such events. In sharing the facts, do not forget to reassure students that they are safe; "regardless of age, kids must hear this message.” Be warm and welcoming and show them they are safe when they are working with you.
Keep up with the normal routine.
It’s important to keep moving forward in a space of normality. The American School Counselor Association reminds us that "kids gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school.” This also carries over into the expected routine of the school day involving therapy sessions you may be leading.
Reassure kids there are good people in the world.
Try to find age appropriate good news sources or stories of people spreading kindness in unique ways. Start A Snowball has a great archive of kids performing good deeds, and it can be fun to start a session with a good news blurb, reminding kids that the world is a good and safe place to be.
Make sure to emotionally process the event yourself.
In any difficult time, before you help others cope, make sure to take some time to work through your own emotions. When you are working with students everyday, it can be difficult to hear such news. Taking time to journal or reflect can help you process your own emotions. Find something that gives you space to think and use that routine anytime you need to address a tragic situation.
Think about finding developmentally appropriate stories to help process tragic events, such as A Terrible Thing Happened. This list from FamilyEducation.com has additional texts explaining tragedy and death for young children.
Some children’s TV shows share messages that can be used during sessions in creative ways. Think about the intermission of Arthur, "And Now A Word From Us Kids” where students share their heroes. Students in session can think about people they look up to and focus on admirable qualities in people, such as kindness and compassion.
Please feel free to reach out and share any resources you find helpful in times of tragedy. Most importantly, all of us at DotCom Therapy want to thank you for caring and being a champion for our kids.