A horrific number of incidents have taken place in schools over the past two weeks: A Montreal school shooting, a 15 year old Wisconsin boy shooting his principal, Colorado girls held hostage molested and then shot in their high school, and six to thirteen year old girls bound and shot execution-style in an Amish one-room school house. Each incident also hit the front page and terrorizing footage was shown over and over on our news stations.
Whether you hid the paper or turned off the TV, our kids are still aware of those horrors. They talk. And that’s exactly why you need to talk about these kinds of tragedies with your children.
There’s another reason why you MUST talk to your child: A recent survey of middle school aged-children found that one of their biggest fears was LATE-BREAKING NEWS WITHOUT AN ADULT TO HELP THEM MAKE SENSE OF THE INCIDENT.
This week I’ve done a number of television segments on how to talk to children about tragedies. I shared a model on the shows called T.A.L.K. that I developed so you can remember the four most important points in discussing any crisis with children:
T – TUNE IN TO YOUR CHILD A LITTLE CLOSER DURING A CRISIS (and the following days)
Each child handles stress differently. How does your child cope? Watch closer the next few days. Are you seeing a change in behavior? Any concerns?
A – ASSESS YOUR CHILD’S STRESS LEVEL
Are you seeing any change in your child’s behavior? That is almost always an indicator that something is up. Your child may not TELL you his concerns, so watch for them. Here are a few “stress” signs that may indicate your child may be having difficulty coping with a situation (or at least clues that something else is up and you should look into it):
* Sudden clinginess or doesn’t want to leave you or go to school
* A change in eating – doesn’t want to eat or the opposite
* Difficulty concentrating, focusing, a dive in grades
* Impulsivity, quick to anger or frustrate
* Problems sleeping – can’t sleep, won’t sleep, nightmares, sleepwalking
* Physiological complaints – stomach ache, headache, etc.
L – LISTEN and TALK (and then LISTEN again)
Open up the dialogue with your child. “What have you heard?” “What are your friends saying about…” “Isn’t it sad about…”
You want to establish if your child has heard about the incident, but also HOW IS HE COPING and DOES HE HAVE THE RIGHT FACTS.
Don’t give out too many facts. Tailor the conversation to the age of your child and your child’s temperament.
The most important thing to remember: STAY CALM YOURSELF. Children mirror our behavior. Your child needs a model for how to cope. Let that model of calmness and confidence come from you.
K – KINDLE A PLAN TO MINIMIZE STRESSORS THAT YOU CAN AND TEACH YOUR CHILD HOW TO COPE
In any crisis children need routines. They need to feel secure. So create those feelings in your home. Turn off that TV. Minimize viewing and talking about the incident. And if you notice your child is having trouble coping, then know that your child probably is going to need strategies to help him not only now — but the rest of his life — now how to deal with trauma. Start teaching your child simple ways to handle stress and trauma.
And if you’re very concerned about your child’s stress, don’t wait. GET HELP!
So now here’s your Reality Check: Have you taught your child a specific way to handle stress? In this day and age doing so is one of the most critical skills for our children to learn. After all, our kids need to learn ways to handle life without us someday.