7/14/2013 6:00:00 AM AFTER A TRAGEDY: Offer kids reassurance while avoiding absolutes
West Yavapai Guidance Clinic
As a follow-up to last week's Counselor's Column, we continue to focus on how adults should communicate with children relative to the recent loss of our 19 local firefighters. Additionally, some area families may be feeling stress and perhaps even loss of property if they are from Yarnell. There could be a general sense of uncertainty with this chain of recent events.
"Do assure kids that all the adults in their world are working hard to keep them safe," said Kim McIntyre, MA, CL, Child and Family Therapist at West Yavapai Guidance Clinic. "But parents should also be careful not to give any absolutes - no guarantees."
McIntyre says that parents should let their children know that they hope such tragedy will never happen here again, and that we want to believe it won't happen here. But bad things can indeed happen, and that is the sad reality.
Essentially the message from parents should be similar regardless of whether the child is very young or nearing adolescence. It is how the message is presented to the different age groups that is important, because the age and cognition makes a difference in how the child will interpret what is said. "Younger children need much more concrete language, with less abstract thoughts and concepts," McIntyre said.
When questioning a child about the event, use the old tried-and-true newspaper method: Who, What, When, Where and How about what a child is perceiving. If a child starts the communication and has hesitation about what to say, encourage further information with a simple "tell me more."
Ultimately, this process will be more like a debriefing than a therapy session. Many parents feel they cannot facilitate something like that because they are not "the professional." The debriefing is a review of the facts and perceived facts that will tell a parent a lot about how a child is experiencing an event of this nature. Monitor what children are watching, reading and hearing regarding the tragedy, and just be ready to be present for your children.
"Kids generally respond to what they see in, and hear from, their parents," McIntyre said. "Try to understand that the grieving process has its own time for each individual. But ultimately, after tragedies, we still have to go back to the job of living for the living, or cling to the tragedy and start dying inside for the dead."