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How to Talk to Kids about the Las Vegas Shooting

After the terrible shooting on Sunday, October 2nd, that took place in Las Vegas killing 59 and injuring more that 500 people, parents are left wondering what to say to their children about the Las Vegas shooting. Let’s acknowledge that it’s becoming less rare to wake up to bad news lately- hurricanes, earthquakes and this senseless shooting makes us wonder when the loss of life and destruction is going to end. I get that. Our children are starting to get hear bits and pieces about these tragedies and those who haven’t will likely hear about them in time. So what do we do or say when tragedy strikes?

Resources:

  • I was interviewed for Morning Dose TV on this topic yesterday- right here.
  • Since I wrote something that is fitting when the Barcelona shooting happened– giving both tips and scripts, I’d like to give that to you now, again.
  • On my podcast, Joe Primo and I discussed How to Talk to Kids about Death & Dying if answers around grieving and death are in need.

And just a few quick words on talking to kids when tragedy strikes:

  • Be the first source– let them hear it from you. News sources are abrupt and made for adult audiences- you know best how to talk to your kids. Tell them; “I am here to answer your questions, there is nothing you can’t ask me. I may not know all the answers but I will find out what I don’t know so I can put your fears to rest.” As children get older you can ask, what do you know about this? How do you feel about this? To open up the conversation.
  • Let them know about the helpers who are working to keep everyone safe and assure them that the man responsible for the deadly act is unable to hurt anyone anymore because he is dead. Tell them; “those in law enforcement and the medical community are doing everything they can to keep us safe and take care of anyone who was hurt. Do you know how Aunt Karen takes care of people in the hospital since she’s a nurse? That’s what the people out there are doing too. Lots of people are helping.”
  • Allow them to be the helpers too– ask, how can we help someone who is suffering today? How might we help the kids who are dealing with these strategies. Something therapeutic for anyone of any age is drawing pictures and writing letters to those in Las Vegas who are suffering. They can write thank you notes to law enforcement and medical staff or raise money for a charity. As an adult, you can give blood and talk to your children about why you are doing it.

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Parents and Teachers: How to Talk to Children about the Paris Attacks

paris-attacks-2How to Talk to Kids about the Paris Attacks and Other Tragic Events

By: Dr. Robyn Silverman

Many of us stayed up late watching everything we could about the tragic Paris Attacks on Friday night. We waited to find out more on Saturday about how many lives were lost, if the perpetrators were all captured and how France and other nations were going to respond.

As a mother of a 5 and 6 year old, I kept the news off while they were in the room and remember running up to the TV to turn it off when a Sunday morning story about the death toll suddenly came on—that’s not the way I want them to find out. Still, I don’t have my head in the sand. it’s important to be prepared to discuss these tragic situations as children hear a great deal in school and from their friends. And with older children in late elementary school, middle school or high school, they likely have head about it already.

How should parents handle it when a large-scale tragedy occurs in the world such as the Paris Attacks?

  • You are the trusted source: If you have a feeling that your children will hear about the tragedy in school, talk to them about it as soon as possible. You can give them the information that is true, appropriate and helpful. Older children might want to learn more about who was involved in the attacks- and there are some websites that provide easy-to-understand information that you can read together or you can read and then discuss the points that you feel are necessary. For example there is this and this for explanations of more complicated facts.
  • Use age-appropriate language and information: Children don’t need to hear the gory details. Give them the information that they need to know in words that they would understand. You can be factual without being gruesome. It is important to set the tone and provide the facts instead of allowing someone else, who may not be correct or appropriate, to do it for you.
  • Allow emotions and fears to surface: Don’t dismiss your children’s fears or emotions. Rather, allow them to have a safe place to express them. If you are upset (as humans, of course we are!), you can talk about being sad or frustrated without going into full detail or matching their intensity. For example, you can say; “I am sad this happened to these people” or “I am frustrated that I can’t help.” In fact, it’s best for adults to talk to other adults about their own feelings rather than delving in deep with children who may not be fully equipped yet to understand.
  • Let them know they are safe: Children are often concerned with their own safety and the safety of their friends and family surrounding them. Make sure they know that events such as these are rare. Talk to them about the adults in this world who are doing what they can to keep the people safe. Discuss the helpers, the heroes and those who are taking action to create peace in this world.
  • Keep an open door: Many children will need more than one conversation to put their questions, fears and concerns to rest. Let your children know that you are available to talk to them if they have questions. You may not know all the answers, but you will do your best to find them out or explore them with your child. For older children, don’t assume that they fully know what’s going on or that you know what they are thinking or feeling. Ask them what they know and how they feel about it. If you feel that there is a better person for your children to talk to about this tragedy, be the bridge or the passageway to the right person so your children feel that their questions have been answered.
  • Honor the loss of life: Whether the tragedy was Sandy Hook, The Boston Marathon bombing or the Paris Attacks, find ways to honor those who were lost. This may be orchestrated through a moment of silence, a family donation or finding ways to help personally.
  • Understand that children all react differently: Some children will want to talk about what’s happening while others might clam up. Some will have lots of questions, while others might seem disinterested. All children react differently. Be aware of hidden signs that a child is upset. For example, sleeping more or having trouble sleeping, withdrawing from friends or wanting to spend more time with family, acting out with poor behavior or wanting to stay home from school. Be open if and when your children become open to talking about the Paris Attacks or tragic events like them.

The best thing we can do for our children is to give them the time, space and arena to discuss their feelings and questions. Just being there can be a comfort when tragedies like the Paris Attacks, the Boston bombing, Sandy Hook occur. And of course, as always, hug them tight and tell them that they are loved. Feeling safe and secure can go a long, long way.

Dr. Robyn Signature

 

 

 

Talking to Kids When Bad Things Happen: MH17 Plane Downed

When flight MH17 was downed between Amsterdam and Malaysia, Good Morning America asked me to come in and discuss it.  In particular, how do you talk to children and teens when bad things, like this plane crash, happen?

1. We live in social media world. There are going to be all kinds of graphic and upsetting images on Twitter and Facebook. What should you do about teens who may be exposed to disturbing visuals?

While it’s easy to turn off with younger kids, with teens, you can’t just turn off the TV and hope they don’t see anything.  There are images and access to news stories everywhere. So tell your teen, “you may be curious and you may seek out or receive images or information that make you feel concern or bring up questions in your mind.  I would like you to come to me about any questions you have and then we can go to the credible news stations and get the most accurate story.”  You may not be able to control the media but you may be able to control how your teens absorb the information. Helping teens to become more media literate will help them to better deal with our world today.

2. What about younger kids? What should you say to a child who may have heard something upsetting?

With younger children, think through 3 things.

  • First, your words. They should underscore safety and let them know the adults in charge are doing everything they can to find out what happened and take care of everyone. Make sure your words are concise, easy-to-understand, age-appropriate and of course, answer the question.
  • Second, pay attention to your voice.  Ensure that it’s calm (as your children will reflect your reaction).  While you can talk about your feelings and say that you feel sad about what happened, be careful not to match the intensity of the emotion you might feel.  You are talking to a child– not a friend.
  • Third, be there.  Children don’t often talk about important topics in one conversation.  So make sure that when one discussion closes, you leave the door open to future conversations.

(3) How do you know if your child may be having a problem dealing with what happened?

You know your child.  When behavior seems abnormal, you may have a problem.  Are they eating more or less, sleeping more or less, acting out, withdrawing or seem highly anxious.  All of these abnormalities may show you that your child is having trouble dealing with something.

It’s normal to feel anxious when something tragic like this happens.  However, if you feel that your child’s behavior needs additional attention, seek out help from your child’s pediatrician.

4. What do you say to reassure kids who are afraid to fly after this?

  • Make sure your child knows that a plane crash or a plane downed is extremely rare.  Air travel is one of the safest ways to travel!
  • Validate your child’s feelings.  Let him know it’s normal to feel anxious about flying after something like this occurs.  Then reiterate that you are there for him and you will get through this together.
  • If possible, speak to a pilot, look at planes and do research on how planes work.  Sometimes knowledge can be the best answer.

 

Parents: 5 Ways for Our Children to Honor The Victims of the Sandy Hook Shooting

actofkindness_sandyhook-300x225A mother and her son, probably about 8 years old, came over to us in the parking lot of the mall the other day.

“Excuse me, I’d like to give you this.”

“What’s this for, Honey?”

“I’m giving out 26 boxes of candy as a Random Act of Kindness in honor of each of the people who died in the Sandy Hook shooting.  You’re number 14…Happy Holidays…”

It was a box with three chocolates in it.  The small strip of paper on the box read; “In honor of the lives of the 26 children and adults that were just taken from us in Connecticut, I offer you this Random Act of Kindness in hopes of bringing a smile to your face this Christmas Season.  You are number 14 and I hope you will pay it forward to someone else with another Random Act of Kindness to someone else.  Please help spread the word! #26Acts #26ActsofKindness

After last Friday’s tragic shooting in Connecticut and many tough conversations with our children, many are looking for ways to help or remember those lost on that fateful day. There are many ways to honor those who were lost in a tragedy like Sandy Hook.  While traditional ways  to help from contributing money to legitimate foundations andfunds or volunteering mental health services [call (800) 203-1234] are great for adults to feel a sense of contribution, children may also like to do something.  It gives them something concrete and age-appropriate to do which can be both a relief and a sense of pride during these confusing and sad times.

Here are some ways our children can honor those lost in the Sandy Hook shooting:

(1)  Do an act of kindness for 26 people:  In honor of each victim, your child can give out 26 items or do 26 acts of kindness that are meaningful to them.  Perhaps your children use some of their allowance to buy small boxes of candy like boy in the mall parking lot did.  Or, perhaps your children will get crafty and make bracelets, pins, stickers, or pictures that they take time to create.  Maybe your child will lend his or her services to help others in their own special way– playing the piano for a sad neighbor, collecting cans for a charity, bringing flowers to the elderly. Whatever feels meaningful to them can help them feel like they are doing something in the wake of this tragedy.

(2)  Make a snowflake: Members of Connecticut’s Parent Teacher Student Association are asking for snowflakes_sandyhook-179x300 homemade snowflakes! Let the children get creative!  The PTSA will use the snowflakes to decorate the school so that the children come back to a beautiful winter wonderland.  The children will be moving to a new school in the new year so they are asking for the snowflakes as soon as possible.  Anyone wishing to make snowflakes can send them to: Connecticut PTSA– 60 Connolly Parkway, Building 12, Suite 103–Hamden, CT 06514.

(3)  Create a condolence card: If your children love to draw, cut and paint, perhaps they’d like to send a homemade card to those grieving in Sandy Hook.  The US Postal Service has added a PO Box for those who wish to send letters of condolence to the residents of Newtown. Please address mail to: Message of Condolence, PO Box 3700, Newtown, CT 06470.

(4)  Quilt or knit a blanket: Project Linus is a nonprofit that brings comfort to children in crisis.   If your child loves to quilt or knit, this can be a rewarding way to give comfort to those in need. Find out how you can get involved here.

(5)  Partial out allowance: As there are so many foundations set up—some general to help all the families and some specific to help a particular family affected by the tragedy, your children can choose where they want their money to go.  Teach your children to partial out a portion of their allowance to the charity or foundation of their choice.  Do they identify with one particular child? Some of the children were known for their beaming personalities, some for their interests and some for their talents. Allow your child to pick so that s/he feels connected to the gift. For example, a child named Noah might feel an affinity to Noah Pozner and want to donate to the Noah’s Ark of Hope Fund . in his honor. A child who loves animals might decide to donate money to a charity to help animals in animal-lover Catherine Hubbard’s name.   There are many options—and so many people who can be helped with your family’s generosity.

Whatever small way your child can help will no doubt be appreciated by the recipients.  But it will also give something back to your child who will learn that children do have the power to give, the power to love and the power to heal.

 

 

 

Our Thoughts Are With You: Victims of Hurricane Sandy

As I live in NJ, we have seen and heard much of the devastation due to the most recent storm.  Hurricane Sandy lived up to the predictions.  Our thoughts and prayers are with you, our neighbors, and all those who suffered loss due to flood, falling trees and power outages.

hurricane-sandy-300x200My hope is that we all open our hearts and our homes to those who are still in need.  Do what you can even if it’s small– donate, lend out generators or extension cords, invite people over for dinner and to stay the night.  That’s been our plan of action as our power has been restored (thankfully) and we only had 2 fallen trees and some fence damage.  We consider ourselves very lucky– and hope for the safety and quick recovery of those still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.