Tips for Talking to your kids after a crisis
We all want our students to be and feel safe! After a critical incident or death, parents/guardians may want to talk to their children about what happened. How children react will depend on the relationship they had with the person who died, their age, and their prior experience with death. If they want to talk, listen, answer their questions simply, honestly, and be prepared to answer the same questions repeatedly. Here are some more tips for talking to your child about fears and concerns.
Please do not hesitate to call your school counselor or the 24-Hour Crisis Line at 360-586-2800 if you feel your child is exhibiting an extreme reaction to this loss. Some signs to watch for, as your student may:
- Appear unaffected;
- Ask questions about the death repeatedly;
- Be angry or aggressive;
- Be withdrawn or moody;
- Be sad or depressed;
- Become afraid; and/or
- Have difficulty sleeping or eating.
- Wild Grief, Olympia, WA, 360-358-3213
- BRIDGES: Center for Grieving Children, MultiCare Health System, Tacoma, WA, 253-403-1966
- The Dougy Center for Grieving Children, Portland, OR, 503-775-5683, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tips for talking to your child
- First and foremost — listen to your child. Children need to vent, to express all of their concerns, fears, outrage, anger, and upset. They’re not looking for answers, advice, or judgment, only for someone to listen to them. Be that person.
- After the child has spent some time talking about their fears and concerns, reassure them of their safety — that the entire family and school are now focused on keeping them safe and secure.
- When discussing events with younger children, the amount of information shared should be limited to some basic facts. Use words meaningful to them (not words like bomber, killer, etc.). Do not go into specific details with young children because it will often be scarier and less understood.
- Children who have been involved in critical incidents will often ask, “Can this happen to me? Can this happen here?” Do not lie. Reiterate how the school is focused on working to keep everyone safe.
- Remain thoughtful about how much media the child is exposed to, including social media. Parents, caregivers, and teachers should be cautious of permitting young children to watch TV or social media that discuss or show the situation. It is reliving the experience. Personal discussions are the best way to share information with this group. Also, plan to discuss this many times over the coming weeks at any time.
- Do not let your child focus on graphic details. Rather, elicit their feelings and concerns and focus your discussions on what they share with you. Guide them through their discussion of the incident and answer their questions truthfully.
- Reassure them of their safety and your efforts to protect them. Kids must hear this message often.
- Be on the lookout for physical symptoms of anxiety that children may demonstrate. They may be a sign that a child, although not directly discussing the situation, is very troubled by recent events. Talk more directly to children who exhibit these signs more frequently than usual:
- Excessive worry
- Stomach aches
- Increased arguing
- Trouble sleeping or eating
- Loss of concentration
- Refusal to go to school
- Clinging behavior
- If you are concerned about a child and their reaction to an incident, talk directly with their school counselor, family doctor, community mental health professional, or Crisis Clinic at 360-586-2800.
- Reassure your child that they will be protected and kept safe. During events like these, words expressing safety and reassurance with concrete plans should be discussed and agreed upon within the family to provide the most comfort to children.