An Apple a Day


When tragedy strikes talk to your children
August 5, 2019

The scenes of carnage from Gilroy, to El Paso and Dayton can be overwhelming for adults as we try and make sense of the triple tragedies and understand why they happen.

Imagine what it is like for a small child, adolescent or teen.

The youngsters see the adults around them at home reacting to the images and news from these tragedies and can hear and witness a variety of emotions, from crying and anxiety to anger and they may not understand what is going on. In many cases they begin to react in the same way.

As a parent and adult, we want to protect our children from physical danger, but what happens when the hurt comes from the inside of a child’s head? Here are tips from the National Education Association that can help as you deal with a difficult situation    

Reassure children that they are safe. Emphasize that schools are very safe. Validate their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs.

Create time to listen and be available to talk. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. Be patient. Children and youth do not always talk about their feelings readily.

Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.

  • 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.
  • 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. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy.
  • 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.

Review school safety procedures. This should include procedures and safeguards at school and at home. Help children identify at least one adult at school and in the community to whom they go if they feel threatened or at risk.

Observe children’s emotional state. Some children may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can indicate a child’s level of anxiety or discomfort. In most children, these symptoms will ease with reassurance and time.

Limit media exposure. Limit television viewing and be aware if the television is on in common areas. Monitor what kids are viewing online and how they are consuming information about the event through social media.

Maintain a normal routine. Keeping to a regular schedule can be reassuring and promote physical health. Ensure that children get plenty of sleep, regular meals, and exercise.

For more information about behavioral health services, or public health