There is no denying the Dec. 14 tragedy in Newtown, Conn., affected all of us in some way, even though the city is thousands of miles away. As a parent, you might not want to talk to your children about the event. In fact, you might assume your kids donít know about it. The reality of todayís world is that news travels far and wide ó and fast. Not talking about it does not protect children. Doing so might actually communicate that the subject is taboo and that you are unavailable.
As a parent, I want to be the one talking to my children about such traumatic events, and I want them to know I am open and available to talk with them about the unpleasant, difficult and challenging times in their lives. Let your children know it is OK to talk about unpleasant events. Listen to what they think and feel. By listening, you can learn more about the support they need and if they have misunderstandings about the event. You do not need to explain more than they are ready to hear, but be willing to answer their questions.
Share your own feelings of frustration and anger. Your children might feel they are the only ones who are struggling. If you tell them about your feelings, you also can tell them about how you deal with such feelings. But be careful not to overwhelm them or expect them to find answers for you.
Children might not be comfortable or competent with words or be able to explain how they feel. Using art, puppets, music or books might help children open up about their reactions. They might want to draw pictures and then destroy them, or they might want to display them or send them to someone else. Be flexible and listen.
When tragic events occur, children might be afraid that the same will happen to them. Itís important to let them know that they are not at risk ó if they are not. Try to be realistic as you reassure them, however. You can try to support them and protect them, but you cannot keep all bad things from happening to them. You always can tell them that you love them and, no matter what happens, your love will be with them. †
After reassuring children, donít stop there. Studies have shown children might also feel sad or angry after a traumatic event. Let them express those emotions as well. Support the development of caring and empathy in your children. Children might want to write a letter to someone about their feelings, get involved in an organization committed to preventing events like the one they are dealing with, or send money to help the victims. It is not enough to let children take action by themselves. Children who know their parents, teachers or other significant adults are working to make a difference, feel hope. And hope is one of the most valuable gifts we can give children and ourselves.
Rebecca McFarland is the family and consumer sciences extension agent for Frontier Extension District No. 11, which serves Franklin County. For more information or questions about food safety, call her at (785) 229-3520 or email firstname.lastname@example.org