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Parents and grandparents: tips for helping a child deal with tragedy


Today’s chilling news about the mass shooting in Newton, Connecticut feels eerily familiar. How many times does this horrible scene have to be replayed before we finally do something about it?

We still don’t know the details of exactly what happened, but  I can’t help thinking that it has to do with the way we deal with mental illness — or more accurately, don’t deal with it.  Maybe this time we can begin a conversation about what we all can do to make sure these horrible episodes stop.

In the meantime, as the holidays approach, we will once again be dealing with heartbreaking images and news reports about the tragedy.  This time, young children will be particularly affected because so many of the victims are so young.

So, how can we help our kids and grandkids cope with these traumatic events? How can we help them to continue feel safe in everyday places, such as the mall, movies or even the grocery store?

The most important things are to acknowledge what has happened, listen to their fears, reassure them and do whatever it takes to help them feel safe. Some children won’t be forthright about their fears or discomfort, so observe carefully for any signs of anxiety.

The American Humane Society has come out with these additional great tips:

• Keep an eye on children’s emotional reactions. Talk to children – and just as important – listen to them. Encourage kids to express how they feel and ask if anything is worrying them.

• Regardless of age, reassure them frequently of their safety and security, and reinforce that you, local officials, and their communities are working to keep them safe. Older children may seem more capable, but can also be affected.

• Keep your descriptions to children simple and limit their exposure to graphic information. Keep to the basic facts that something bad happened but that they are safe. Use words they can understand and avoid technical details and terms such as “smoke grenades” and “sniper.”

• Limit their access to television and radio news reports since young children may have trouble processing the enormity of the experience, and sometimes believe that each news report may be a new attack.

• Be prepared for children to ask if such violence can occur to them. Do not lie but repeat that it is very unlikely and that you are there to keep them safe.

• Watch for symptoms of stress, including clinginess, stomachaches, headaches, nightmares, trouble eating or sleeping, or changes in behavior.

• If you are concerned about the way your children are responding, consult your doctor, school counselor or local mental health professional.

Life is tentative  so hug the kids in your life today. Tell them you love them. Be with them. And cherish every day with them.

Follow Amy Goyer on Twitter @AmyGoyer and Facebook

(photo courtesy of

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