Saturday, October 14, 2017

Parenting Pointers: Helping Children Deal with Grief

Several weeks ago, there was a mass shooting in Las Vegas. In the past few years, many children and adolescents have been exposed to news of tragedies around the world - riots and protests, harsh words, horrific crimes, and natural disasters. It can be hard as parents to see how children grieve, whether they have experienced the tragedy themselves or have only heard of it.

The OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center mission is to provide the community with grief support services, education, resources, and hope. Since 1993, OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center has helped thousands of grieving children, teens, and adults as they embark upon their journeys to hope and healing.

They have a helpful downloadable resource specifically to help children cope with a mass shooting. I had a chance to interview LAUREN SCHNEIDER, LCSWClinical Director of Child and Adolescent Programs, to learn more.

1. Why do parents need to be aware of how children cope with grief?
Children depend on their primary attachment figures for sustenance and emotional nurturing and most children and teens are being raised by at least one parent.  It is often hard for a bereaved parent to recognize the grieving signs in a child for several reasons but primarily because children seek to shield their pain from their grownup who they intuit is already overwhelmed with stress and grief.  Because the adult is also grieving it is hard for them be as attuned to their children as they usually are. Therefore, it behooves parents to seek support and guidance so they can both understand and be there to support their children.
2. What is unique about the way children process news about disaster and tragedy?
Very young children may act out their reactions to the news through play or art.  You may see them playing both the shooter and the victim in sandboxes or on the playground in the school yard or park.  Others may seek reassurance that they are safe and that the same act of violence won’t happen in their community.  Still others will avoid talking or thinking about it during waking hours but be plagued by nightmares and be afraid to leave home to go to school or visit friends.
3. How can parents help children process news stories?
Parents should first be vigilant by limiting children’s exposure to news stories.  Because of the repetitive nature of the media, young children interpret the images as happening numerous times rather than being the same act of violence re-televised over and over.  Parents should respond to children’s questions honestly and validate their feelings.  Avoid offering empty words of assurance since children have now learned that these types of violent acts can happen anywhere at any time.  Instead, try agreeing E.g.  “Yes, I’m scared too about what happened but most people are good, not evil and helped each other during this emergency." Then encourage children to come to you when they feel sad or afraid and offer safe ways for them to express their anger if they feel angry about what happened."  Examples of safe ways for younger children to express feelings include showing them how to scream or punch into pillows, or how to use their strength to rip up old magazines or phone books.  Older children can be encouraged to exercise or do advocacy work with you. 

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