Helping Children Cope with Tragedy
In an effort to help our school community, we have compiled a list of valuable resources to assist families and educators as we seek to understand the horrific events of yesterday. As parents ourselves, we understand the fear many parents and children face today and know the dinner-table conversations are filled with difficult questions that seemingly have no right answer.
Our prayers are with the Uvalde, Texas community and those worldwide who are scared and grieving today.
This list has been compiled from a variety of resources and our own experiences.
- FREE eBook Download: "A Kid's Book About School Shootings"
- Ages 4+: "A Terrible Thing Happened"
- Ages 4-7: "Most People" is a picture book that reassures children the world is filled with friendly people.
- Ages 3-5: "The Don't Worry Book" (helps children cope with worries)
- Ages 4-7: "Ruby Finds a Worry" (helps children cope with worries)
- Ages 4-8: "The Whatifs" (helps children cope with worries)
- Ages 6-12: "What to Do When the News Scares You"
- Ages 6-12: "Something Bad Happened: A Kid's Guide to Coping With Events in the News"
- Intended for parents and educators: This book includes conversation scripts and tips to help children feel calm in an anxious world. "When the World Feels Like a Scary Place"
Talking with Children About Tragedy in the News
- First, find out what your child or student knows about the event. Even if you haven't yet discussed it together, the child may have heard the news from media sources or classmates. The child's perception of what has happened may be very different from the reality.
- Assure the child that it is ok to talk about sad or scary events. It is also ok to admit to feeling sad, scared, or angry and to acknowledge that you are having those feelings too. In an interview with Good Morning America, expert Willow Bay advises, "Establish that there is no question too scary for your child to talk about." Likewise, Mr. Rogers writes, "If we don't let children know it's okay to feel sad and scared, they may think something is wrong with them when they do feel that way."
- Encourage questions, both now and in the future. David Schonfeld, MD, writes, "Like adults, children are better able to cope with a crisis if they feel they understand it. Question-and-answer exchanges provide you with the opportunity to offer support as your child begins to understand the crisis and the response to it."
- Reassure the child that many people are working to keep them safe. When a child has questions such as, "Why did this happen?" or "Am I safe?", Ms. Bay encourages parents to talk about the many people who work every day to keep kids safe.
In sharing information, be honest, but be mindful of the child's age. The National Association of School Psychologists
offers these helpful guidelines in its tips for talking
with children about violence (available
in multiple languages below). Examples related to school
shootings are included with the tips:
- Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them. Give simple examples of school safety like reminding children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day.
- Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. Some students may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools.
- Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (e.g. not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any personal safety issues to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.
- Remember that it is ok to admit that you don't have all of the answers. Mr. Rogers offers the following: "If the answer is 'I don't know,' then the simplest reply might be something like, 'I'm sad about the news, and I'm worried. But I love you, and I'm here to care for you.'"
- Be patient. If the child doesn't have much to say yet, give him some time and let him know he can come back with more questions or to talk about the events when he is ready. If he shows signs of depression and anxiety over time, speak with the child's pediatrician or a school counselor for guidance.