Tragedy keeps striking again and again and we need to pull together for ourselves today and the future for our children. The events in Las Vegas following repeated hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions may shake us deeply, but we must not let them shatter us.
The first step is self care for the adults in the family. Before you talk to your children, find a way to calm yourself, at least a little bit. Connect with your resources, inner strength and spirituality as well as outer connections. You might pause just to visualize a calm safe place until your body begins to self-regulate. Take some deep breaths. Get out in nature, or at least look out the window or at some nature pictures. Take a walk. Say a short prayer. Sometimes the short version of the Serenity Prayer can be helpful: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Sometimes all you can manage is a simple: “Help!”
When your head is clearer, be sure you have accurate basic information and weed out the graphic or fake news. Keep the TV viewing to a minimum, ideally recording what you will watch so you can control what you present, especially for any children under 12. Then go ahead and initiate a conversation with your children. Better to be the one to bring it up than to wait for other less caring sources to prevail. Your children, if they are 4 or older, may have already heard something and not know what to say or do with the confusing feelings. Keep it short, simple and straightforward. Ask if they have questions. Just answer the question asked.
You may share your feelings if you can do so without drama that will alarm them. Encourage your children to express their feelings in words if they can, but action and art may be easier. They can scribble, squash play-doh, beat a pillow, scream or cuddle in a soft blanket depending on what they need. If they are able to talk, don’t interrupt or disagree. Repeat back, reflecting or paraphrasing what you think you heard them say. Hold them or let them go as they need, not by your need. They may just want to be quiet and rock with you. Ask what helps them calm down; don’t assume that what helps you will be the same for them. Expect a range of emotions to change over the days but keep an eye out for lasting changes in sleeping, toileting, eating or acting out patterns. Keep your schedule as normal as possible, but also plan to pause being sure to eat together or get out to a park if you can.
If you’re reading this during a lull between crises, plan ahead now by checking out a resource to review what is age appropriate for your children. One source to consult could be “Talking to Children About Tragedies” by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Now, back to the adults: We need each other in times like this. Introverts may need to heal in quiet solitude, then return to provide comfort to others. Extroverts may need to process verbally, thinking out loud while others mostly listen. Some people will curl up and cry; others may clean everything in sight. We may differ about causes and cures. We’ll need patience with each other. Remember, in spite of differences, we’re better together.