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home : education : schools November 19, 2018

2/21/2018 2:08:00 PM
Helping children cope with traumatic events
By Edie Jones

As I watched with horror the terrible event that unfolded last week at the school in Florida I wondered what I could say to help parents in Sisters as their children become aware of this terrible tragedy. Events such as these can be terrifying to children, even when they take place far away. In their minds they question, if it happened there could it happen here?

As I pondered what to say, part of an answer appeared in my emails; from SOS Children's Villages - USA. A letter from their chief executive officer, Lynn Croneberger, offered some important ideas to pass on.

The best place to begin would be to find out what they had heard, what they knew and what worried them the most. Ask if they have questions and then answer as simply and directly as possible without giving unnecessary details.

Be careful to not use graphic language and, as much as possible, limit their access to media. This is hard to do in an era of instant news, however, important in lessening the impact. Be careful about the adult conversations they overhear as these only add to their concerns.

Keep as calm as possible yourself, as children pick up from us our emotions, our fears, and our worry over their safety.

Sticking to your routines and normal way of going about the day helps children feel safe and in control. This is always true, even more so when the news is scary or there are traumatic situations.

Be particularly mindful of signs that your children are struggling. Watching for changes in eating, sleeping patterns, behavior, and emotions, especially sadness and anxiety, will give you clues as to how they are coping.

Another resource I highly prize is the book "Raising Resilient Children," by Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein. Both of these writers have PhDs in clinical psychology and years of working with children. Citing a quote by Anne Frank, which frames her as an extremely resilient young girl, they state that the "qualities of a resilient mindset are no less important for today's youth. For hundreds of millions of children worldwide, daily adversity compromises their current and future well-being."

Tragically, we saw this in the event of last week. Hopefully, the children of this upper-middle class community that reportedly was free of crime and violence will have developed some of the qualities that will help them cope and rise above the trauma they've been through.

The book is an excellent resource for parents in fostering strength, hope and optimism in their children, all qualities needed for resilience. It provides 10 guideposts for parents to use in teaching resilience. Starting with teaching and conveying empathy, they propose ideas as to how we can change the way we talk to our kids, accept them for who they are and help them set realistic expectations and goals. They encourage parents to recognize mistakes as teachable moments and teach and emphasize the importance of solving problems and making good choices. On the topic of discipline they present ideas that promote self-discipline and self-worth, qualities extremely important in resiliency.

The book also gives a clear picture of how resilient children view themselves: Resilient children are hopeful and possess high self-worth primarily because they feel special and appreciated. They know how to set realistic goals for themselves, know how to solve problems, view mistakes, hardships, and obstacles as challenges and have productive coping skills that allow them to move beyond the kind of trauma we just witnessed.

Resilient children are aware of their weaknesses and vulnerabilities while also recognizing their strengths and talents and use these to their advantage. They view themselves with a sense of competence while developing interpersonal skills that contribute to their ability to relate to other kids and adults. They also recognize when they need help and are not afraid to seek it, being aware of what they have control over, and using this to rise above adverse situations that come their way.

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