Sunday, November 15, 2015

Coping with Tragedy

If anyone asked me to recall my actions on the mornings of September 11, 2001, December 14th, 2012, or April 15, 2013, I'd be able to do so instantly. These were days that, for me, were wrought with unspeakable tragedy and heartache in America. All three were vastly different in execution but held a similar kind of emotional impact in regards to reminding us about our vulnerability to terrorism and extreme violence towards innocent civilians.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, I felt it important to share resources about how to best support our kids during these uncertain/unsettling times while encouraging acceptance/tolerance. Children will ask questions and seek to understand how and why these events have occurred. While working in a town just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, this was very much the case after the marathon bombings. I got to see firsthand that children's reactions can vary dramatically, and also that their exposure to constant news footage about the incident can result in much confusion and stress. Some of our younger students could simply not differentiate between the past and present, meaning that they felt as though the bombings were still going on and their sense of security, as a result, was threatened due to the constant media coverage.

The National Association of School Psychologists has developed handouts for parents and teachers which allows us to better understand how we can help children cope with acts of terror. The following tips are ways that we can best offer support:

  • Establish a sense of safety and security
  • Help children to process their thoughts and feelings-->Be a good listener and observer!
  • Let children know it's okay to have many different feelings and there is no "right" way to respond
  • Monitor and limit exposure to media, including social media and other internet sites
  • Be honest about what occurred yet be mindful of using developmentally appropriate language
  • Provide ways for children to express emotion, such as journaling, writing letters, talking, art or music
  • Focus on resiliency as well as the compassion of others
  • Identify the various ways in which people are helping; empathise the ability to do good
According to NASP, equally as important is modelling compassion and acceptance of differences through words and behaviour. Be keenly aware of how adult reactions influences children's perceptions. In one article, "Promoting Compassion and Acceptance in Crisis," tips to prevent  prejudice and hate is discussed in greater depth. This is particularly important given the nature of the attacks and our commitment to raising globally-minded, empathetic and tolerant students. 

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