There are several articles, and one video, on this blog created specifically to help parents whose children are (or may soon be) dealing with grief and loss. They are collected below for easy reading.
- Children and Funerals
- Helping Children Grieve
- Book recs on grief/loss for kids
- Talking with children about tragedies in the news
- Video: Talking with young children about death
Please feel free to contact me with questions or to set up an appointment for parent coaching around grief and loss, or however you think I can help.
This tragedy is so horrible I almost can’t bear it. My heart hurts, and I know yours does, too. And yet, we still have to keep going, because we are our children’s first protector, explainer and comforter. So take a deep breath, send some love to those families, yourself and your kids, and then you can begin to help your child understand.
However, that being said– if you can avoid the conversation, that’s probably your best bet. Young children can’t cognitively or emotionally process this event (it’s challenging for adults, too) so if they don’t already know, perhaps you can protect them from this news. I certainly, strongly recommend turning off the TV tonight. News programs don’t present information in a way that is appropriate for children. If your child already knows what happened, or has some inkling of what happened, you may need to help them understand, process, or put it in to context.
Remember that the most important thing you can do for your kids is to be and stay open to their communication. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you need to give your child a particular piece of information, or say a particular phrase. Parenting is never accomplished in one moment. Parenting is all about repeated experiences/events/conversations. Remember–it’s all about the RELATIONSHIP, and you want to have the kind of relationship where your children know that they can come to you to talk about difficult, awkward, or emotional topics. So: make this a “talkable moment,” be honest, calm, serious, supportive, loving, and listenlistenlisten.
As far as specific language, you might say something like:
- A man killed children and teachers today in Connecticut.
- He shot them with a gun in their school.
- He also killed himself.
- We don’t know why he did it.
- He might have been mentally ill, which is when your brain doesn’t work properly.
If your child has questions or unspoken fears about his or her own safety at school, it might be helpful to share information about that.
- Your school does things to keep you and your classmates safe. Your school has (locked doors, a buzzer system, metal detectors, etc… whatever is true.)
- Although the idea of someone shooting at school is very scary, it is actually very rare. It seems scary right now because it just happened and because people are talking about it. Your scared feelings will get smaller and smaller as time passes.
And for children who are having a hard time moving past their big feelings about this, you might remind them that there are things we can all do to help manage big feelings, for example:
- Put our attention on parts of our lives that we have happy or secure feelings about—for example make a list of 10 things in our life that we love, 10 things that happened this week that were funny, or 10 people who care about us and help us.
- Older children might be able to look backwards at something that they felt frightened of in the past and be able to compare how their feelings have since changed. This can help them to imagine how today’s feelings might get better with time, too.
- Write a note/draw a picture expressing condolences to be sent to the school or the first responders in the situation.
And then, for yourself, consider limiting your own exposure to this tragedy. Check in tomorrow if you need to, but spend tonight away from a screen, and with your own precious family.
Once parents are certain that they are separating or getting a divorce, they begin to think through when/what/how they should tell their children. Regarding WHEN to tell children about a divorce or separation, here are some tips.
A few concrete suggestions:
- Avoid major holidays and birthdays, etc.
- Consider the child’s school or extracurricular schedule (major tests or events, etc.)
- Don’t tell them right before bed/school/playdate. Plan to have plenty of free, unscheduled time after you tell them in case they need a break or to be alone or whatever reaction they have. (If they need to be distracted after the conversation, that can be done impromptu.)
- Think about your own energy level and make sure to schedule this conversation at a time when you aren’t tired or stressed or otherwise taxed.
- Try to tell them enough in advance that they will continue to see you and your spouse co-parenting and running the house as you always have just a little longer. The idea is to show the kids that while the marriage is ending, the co-parenting and cooperative, cordial adult relationship is not ending.
But my most important piece of guidance about scheduling this conversation:
There is no “perfect time” for this conversation. Of course, as a loving parent you are trying to manage every detail in order to minimize their upset feelings, but even with all that they will still have those feelings. If they are going to feel agony, they will feel agony no matter what day you tell them. And, you want them to feel 110% permission to feel their feelings about this very big change, so the best thing I can tell you might be to just worry a little less about the scheduling and instead do what you can to be prepared to listen and watch and breathe and love them whenever you do tell them.
As part of my work with SWParents.org, we produced a video for parents on how to talk to your kids about death. I also share a few basic tips for understanding and responding to the various ways that children can express grief. Please take a look if you think this topic might be helpful to you or a loved one. Non-members can watch up to 10 videos or read 10 articles per month for free. The link below will take you directly to the video.
Austin-American Statesman writer Tara Trower adds to the conversation about talking with your children about Austin’s plane crash. Read her blog post here.
I’ve recently been invited to contribute tips on talking with your kids about money
(particularly around the holidays during this down economy) at a workshop called “How to spend, save and invest in a tight economy”.
The workshop is hosted by Megan Poore, a financial advisor in central Austin. The workshop primarily focuses on adult issues, but one of her passions is helping families & teaching kids about money, so she’s asked me to help provide a little guidance on that issue from the perspective of a parent coach! I’ll provide a handout at one workshop, and will attend the other in person. More details below, and feel free to email me with any questions.
Here’s the rest of the scoop on the workshop:
Megan Poore and Cass Grange have 20 years of experience helping families come up with a spending plan so that they can stay on task and invest to meet their goals. Join us for a fun lunch of helpful tips and handouts.
Two workshop dates – December 9th or 10th. Arrive by 11:45am and we will have you out of here by 1pm. $10 includes lunch and all materials. We will include a tip sheet for budget discussions. Katie Malinski, LCSW (Parenting Coach and Child & Family Therapist) will provide tips for talking to your children about money.
Each workshop is limited to 10 attendees. Please RSVP to Megan and include which date you prefer – mpoore AT lsggroup DOT com or 458.2517. Workshop location: Lucien, Stirling and Gray offices – 4005 Guadalupe.