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Talking with Children and Adolescents about Tragic Events

We thank the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center and Ellery H. Duke, Ph.D., for sharing the following resource information with us!

As we all try to cope with the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut, people may reach out for resources on how parents and/or community members can talk with children and adolescents about this recent act; something that even we as adults cannot truly understand.

The Samaritan Institute, the Center’s accrediting agency, shared these resources with DSM Pastoral Counseling Center. The National Institute of Mental Health has two separate booklets specifically for this purpose:
1)Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters: What PARENTS Can Do
2)Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters: What COMMUNITY MEMBERS Can Do(For Teachers, Clergy, and Other Adults in the Community)

Some of the information contained in the booklets is highlighted/summarized below:
In general adult helpers should:
Attend to children
• Listen to them
• Accept/ do not argue about their feelings
• Help them cope with the reality of their experiences

Reduce effects of other stressors like
• Frequent moving or changes in place of residence
• Long periods away from family and friends
• Pressures at school
• Transportation problems
• Fighting within the family
• Being hungry

Monitor healing
• It takes time
• Do not ignore severe reactions
• Attend to sudden changes in behaviors, language use, or in emotional/feeling states

Remind children that adults
• Love them
• Support them
• Will be with them when possible.

Identify and address their own adult feelings – this will allow adult helpers to help others explain to children what happened, but also let children know:
• You love them
• The event was not their fault
• You will take care of them, but only if you can; be honest
• It’s okay for them to feel upset

Do:
• Allow children to cry
• Allow sadness
• Let children talk about feelings
• Let them write about feelings
• Let them draw pictures