This past weekend we faced yet another tragedy in Oklahoma, another unfortunate event that has brought us together to remember we are and always will be Oklahoma Strong, no matter the circumstances. In light of the OSU homecoming tragedy, as parents we now have to comfort children whose innocent minds can’t fully process the event and it’s results, we have to answer questions that are difficult to answer and we have to somehow find the words and actions to make our children feel safe and confident in a world that quite honestly most adults don’t always feel safe or confident in. Here are a few tips for talking to your kids about the bad things and how to cope with them.
1.) Limit exposure to news coverage, social media and adult conversations regarding the tragedy . This may seem obvious but sometimes as adults we get caught up in it ourselves and forget that there are little eyes and ears present who are taking in so much more than we could ever imagine.
2.) Allow questions. Don’t shut your child down in order to avoid difficult conversations. Listen to them and give brief and factual information in an age appropriate manner. Giving them this information is likely going to prompt more questions and that’s okay, as long as you’re keeping your dialogue age appropriate you’re not going to do any harm. For young children a simple, “Someone made a very bad decision which hurt some people. A lot of good people came in to help those who were hurt. The situation is over and he or she cannot hurt anyone else now.”
3.) Ask questions. Avoid closed ended questions such as, “Does this make you sad?” and instead use open ended questions like, “How does this make you feel?” This allows the child to be in charge of their emotions. Conveying their feelings to you accurately will give you the tools you need to react appropriately. What makes one child sad may make another child angry. In those instances, you want to address the appropriate emotion.
4.) Focus on the positives. We’re Oklahomans, we’ve experienced an unfortunate amount of tragedy but we know how to band together to help people and keep the Oklahoma Strong spirit alive. Talk to your kids about it. Discuss how helpful the citizens of Oklahoma are in times of tragedy, how quickly first responders arrive to rescue those who are injured and detain those who make bad decisions in order to keep us safe.
5.) Let them know they are safe. It doesn’t matter how much distance lies between your child and the tragedy, often times they feel like they are no longer safe. Assure them that they are safe, that the person who caused the event is no longer able to harm anyone. While tragic events seem to happen frequently, they are still very rare. It’s important for children to feel safe in their home, at school, at the park, mall, movies, sports events, parades etc. You want to spend a lot of time encouraging them by pointing out specific reasons they are safe.
6.) Be affectionate. Hugs are good for the soul, especially when your kids are worried, scared and sad. Let them know they are loved and cared for immensely.
6.) Encourage and help them to be a part of something that positively affects those involved. These activities can be simple, from drawing a picture or sending a card, to making baked goods or purchasing useful items for the first responders, hospitalized victims and/or their loved ones. Many families and organizations also set up victim’s assistance funds to help with medical and funeral expenses. There are so many ways to get involved, even if it’s volunteering somewhere to help somebody else who isn’t directly related to the incident. When kids are able to help people it makes them feel important and needed which is necessary in times of tragedy.
7.) Stay calm and in control. Avoid showing too much anxiety or fear as children quickly catch on to your emotions and body language. Don’t ignore your feelings but rather use your partner, friends or family members as your listening ear.
Our thoughts are with everyone effected by the tragedy in Stillwater.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
-Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers)