And not necessarily in that order! In fact, at The Healing Center, we recommend to parents to always “put your oxygen mask on first, then assist your child.”
We know this is common sense on the airplane, and we also know how easy it is to forget to take care of yourself in stressful situations, especially when you are taking care of children. Following the aftermath of what happened in Boston, we asked our retired Children’s Program Director, Ann White, to offer a few gentle reminders on how to talk with your children. If you would like more assistance, please do not hesitate to call us to set-up an appointment with one of our grief support therapists, (206) 523-1206.
Dear Healing Center Parents,
Yesterday a terrible thing happened. It happened in Boston, but it’s affecting people everywhere, especially people who are already dealing with the death of someone loved. It might be affecting you, and your children, and that’s why I’m writing. Many people are offering advice about what to say to kids about the bombing events at the Boston Marathon. Because you’re a Healing Center parent, you might already know many ways to help your children with this tragedy, but I thought I’d just mention a few things that I especially believe will be helpful.
1. Assume that your child will hear about this event from someone, if they are of school age. If they are younger than 4 and you don’t watch TV, they may not know. For elementary aged kids and those younger, you can just state that a very sad thing happened yesterday in Boston, and people were hurt. It would be appropriate to then say “and I feel sad “(or mad) or however you really feel. I think that statements such as these are best told while holding or sitting close to the child. You can reassure him or her that this happened far away from Seattle. Either way, a simple statement of fact is called for here. Details are not necessary or desirable, unless direct questions are asked. Limiting their access to the recurring news and exposure to the tragedy over and over is also recommended.
2. For older children, you may find that there are many questions, and it would be helpful to let them know that police are working to find out more, but that few facts are known right now. Try to answer their questions honestly, but simply. Remember that it’s ok to say “I don’t know.” and “I don’t understand this either.” We like to say to parents, “answer the question that your child asks. Your child will guide you in how much information they want or need at one time.”
3. Know that this event may send your child back to an earlier time in their own grief journey, so be observant to behavior and mood changes. Extra cuddles and more time for communication might be helpful for awhile. If this doesn’t help after a few days, you may want to make an appointment at The Healing Center for a little one on one time.
4. Your child will take cues from you about this event. If you’re having difficulty, know that The Healing Center is there for you, too.
5. If necessary, assist your child in finding a “Vent” for his or her feelings. Examples of good ways to express feeling are: talking, writing, art, running, and crying.
6. The most important thing you can do for your child in times of stress is to LISTEN to them. If they know you’re listening, they become much more motivated to tell you how they feel and what they need.
Take care of yourself and know that you have a community at The Healing Center ready to support you.
-Ann WhiteRetired Children’s Program Director and Consultant @ The Healing Center
For more information about how to talk to children about death and grief, view our blog story Talking with Children and link to The Dougy Center.