There are some things that cannot be explained. There are some things that are beyond what kids should ever have to understand, but never the less, they exist. Here are some ways to help discuss and manage the subject of random acts of violence and tragedy with your family and loved ones.
Reassure safety. While we cannot put our loved ones into protective bubbles as we would like, we cannot let their lives be governed by fear. Although you may be feeling vulnerable and unsafe, look at what realistic means you can take and try your best to reassure young ones that they are safe. Anxiety, nightmares, and increased concern can all be met with listening, validating, and simple, honest responses. Letting your child talk about their concerns is the only way to help them process or understand. Dismissing their fears or concerns will only plant the seeds deeper. If your child or loved one does not seem able to move on, or becomes fixated on the events, then it will be time to seek out additional resources.
Limit exposure. Television and media coverage can be overwhelming and daunting for any age and can lead to traumatization. Limit the amount of exposure, make sure you are available for questions, and make sure to monitor your own responses. Kids learn from their parents and your reactions to the tragedy will shape how they internalize it.
Follow their lead. Balance your desire to keep them informed with your judgement about how best to protect. Listen to the questions they ask and give try to give the information they are asking for without overloading.
Larger Discussions. Tragedy often leads to questions about morality, life, and death. Talk with the all the adults in the home to make sure you are all giving the same message. Be prepared to discuss life after death questions as well as questions about good and evil. Remember again that kids shape their world view according to their parents, so be careful with how you respond.
Offer resources. Seek out professional help. Rather than offer counseling, sign up each family member for one session with a qualified professional (as well as a family session all together, if possible.) This way no one is stigmatized as “needing help” or “weak,” it is a mandatory family response to tragedy. Then offer additional meetings if any family member wants. This will role model how to handle crisis and how to seek help when you need it, valuable life lessons.
Promote Peace and Kindness. So often, people want to help in whatever way they can and this is a great way to help deal with grief. You may not be able to help the families or victims directly, but there may be other things you and your children can do that assure that these people are not forgotten. Showing your child that something other than fear and despair can come out of something so terrible is a very powerful message. Offer to advocate for gun control, start a school fundraiser for a scholarship in a victim’s name, spend time with helping other children that are suffering but are still alive, etc. Any age child can become involved with random acts of kindness to combat the acts of tragedy.
Love and Grief. Tragedy reminds us all of how important people are and the importance of love. Grief is also important because it is the living’s way of honoring the dead. Please make a little space for both.
Here are some other articles I have found so far that also give advice. Please be well.