When bad things happen in the world, kids often know more about it than we think we do. Counselor Lynea Gillen, author of the new book for young kids, Good People Everywhere, joined us to share a few ways to help your child deal with trauma:
- As much as possible, stay calm. Don't go into a hyper alert state.
- Answer their questions directly, but don't elaborate. Adults often tell more than the child is ready to hear or able to understand. Answer only the question they ask, then wait to see if they have more questions.
- I often tell children that there are many ways to get sick. Some people get sick in their stomach, or lungs, or heart - and some people get sick in their minds. When people have an illness that affects their minds, they don't think well. It's sad for everyone when this happens.
- Children may ask how people get an illness that affects their mind. You can say that we don't always know, but that if we take good care of our bodies, minds and hearts, we can help prevent this. You can also tell them that there are many doctors who are helping people heal and we continue to find new ways to help people who get sick.
- Acknowledge their feelings of sorrow and confusion, then remind them that people are strong and resilient, and that there are many good people helping those who are hurt. Most of the time we can prevent these things from happening, but sometimes we can't. But we can help people heal from these events.
- Tell the children about the helpful efforts. There are people bringing food to the parents. There are people holding prayer vigils. The president went to Colorado and sat with the families and cried with them. This is how we help each other heal.
- It's okay for your child to see you cry - you can tell them that you are washing the sad feelings out of your heart - or for older children, you can tell them that crying is one of the ways our bodies help heal us. It's important, however, to let your children know that you are strong and don't need them to take care of you. You can model how to have compassion and sorrow and also be strong. In fact, people who allow emotions are healthier than those who bottle them up.
- Limit the amount of time you watch the news or talk about the event. The news is often reported with a tone of emergency, and the children will feel this in their bodies and it can frighten them. If you talk about the event in front of your children, spend as much time on the healing efforts as you do on the tragedy., Choose calming, grounding activities to do with your child to help them come back to a feeling of safety.
- The questions may keep coming for the next several days, or even months. And you may see them acting out the scenario in their play. This is the way children process. Allow the play, and continue to remind them about the healing efforts. If your child seems unable to be comforted, seek help from a professional counselor.
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