Tips for Helping Children Cope With Tragedy

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FOLLOWING THE SHOOTING OF AT LEAST 27 PEOPLE at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, American Humane Association issued these tips for parents and other caregivers to help children cope with the fear and uncertainty caused by this tragedy.

“Our hearts go out to the community of Newtown following this unspeakable tragedy,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, president & CEO of American Humane Association. “We grieve for those whose lives were lost. Children can be especially vulnerable during a time like this, particularly given that the shootings took place in an elementary school. The best thing to do is to talk to children now and in the weeks to come to ensure they receive the attention they need in dealing with this tragedy.”

Key things to remember:

  • Keep an eye on children’s emotional reactions. Talk to children – and just as important – listen to them. Encourage kids to express how they feel and ask if anything is worrying them.
  • Regardless of age, reassure them frequently of their safety and security, and reinforce that you, local officials, and their communities are working to keep them safe. Older children may seem more capable, but can also be affected.
  • Keep your descriptions to children simple and limit their exposure to graphic information. Keep to the basic facts that something bad happened but that they are safe. Use words they can understand and avoid technical details and terms such as “smoke grenades” and “sniper.”
  • Limit their access to television and radio news reports since young children may have trouble processing the enormity of the experience, and sometimes believe that each news report may be a new attack.
  • Be prepared for children to ask if such violence can occur to them. Do not lie but repeat that it is very unlikely and that you, their teachers and school staff are there to keep them safe.
  • Watch for symptoms of stress, including clinginess, stomachaches, headaches, nightmares, trouble eating or sleeping, or changes in behavior.
  • If you are concerned about the way your children are responding, consult your doctor, school counselor or local mental health professional.

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