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Helping children cope with crisis

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 11/16/2015, 8:22 a.m.
“If you were to look down upon the world today, you would see a world divided by wars and natural ...

“If you were to look down upon the world today, you would see a world divided by wars and natural disaster … you would think there is little hope … Even though there is a lot of bad in the world, we have to believe there is more good. We have to believe in tomorrow.” – Jonathan, Connecticut sixth grader

“I don’t think I’ll ever trust the sky again.” – Connecticut child after 9-11

(NNPA) – Executive Director of the Connecticut Commission on Children Elaine Zimmerman helps meet many child needs in her state including sharing advice to help children cope with terrible events. Some of our nation’s largest tragedies have hit Connecticut’s children close to home.

Many lost family members who worked in New York City on Sept. 11th. Then there was the unimaginable heartbreak and horror of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that murdered 20 first graders and six beloved teachers in a place where families believed their children would be safe.

But epidemic gun violence has shattered schools, colleges, and movie theaters and streets and homes all over America.

Connecticut children are far from alone in their fears of violence and terrorism. Constant stories about wars, desperate refugee parents and children, worries about attacks on places of worship, and the cumulative natural and unnatural devastation can make the world seem like a very scary, unpredictable place. So Zimmerman has shared suggestions her agency gives:

• Connect. Many children feel isolated, scared and confused. Counter that by giving them comfort and understanding.

• Answer children’s questions directly and honestly whenever possible. Authentic response in tragedy is so important to children and youths. Listen carefully and answer. They may want to know just one answer, one detail. Then ask if there are other questions and make it clear that you will answer, to the best of your ability, whatever they are asking.

• Provide a message of warmth and security. Children need to know that home is safe, so show them you love them and will protect them. There are no stronger barriers against the harmful effects of violent and chaotic behavior than love and a sense of connection.

• Highlight steps to keep school safe. As a teacher, note strong school safety measures and explain that school is one of the safest places in our communities. As a parent, learn about new safety protocols, professional training and building security for your own comfort, participation and messaging. Help children play and learn together in a relaxed manner.

• Know what to do, as much as possible, in a disaster. Develop emergency plans that include roles for the children. Ensure they know adults are thinking about their safety.

• Direct children to a school or community counselor who serves children and families if you perceive that the response they are showing might benefit from a professional conversation. Counseling, often short-term and focused, can be tremendously helpful when needed. Signs might include prolonged trouble eating or sleeping, bad dreams or aggressive play. Find out what mental health supports are available at school and in your community.