Summer Safety Series #1
Empowering Children to Feel Safer in a Sometimes Scary World
From Guns to Tornadoes:
Tragedy Strikes the Nation
and Touches Kids
Over the past year, our kids witnessed, often via media, a series of national tragedies that could shake their sense of fundamental safety and control of the world around them. Here, we address ways in which we can work together to reassure kids about safety and to empower them to keep themselves safe.
Since July 20, 2012 when a much anticipated Colorado showing of The Dark Knight Rises descended into very real terror and death, our nation has been exposed to five tragedies, all taking or threatening the life of at least one child. In Aurora, Newtown, and Boston, young people were slaughtered by men bent on violence. In Cleveland, teens were held captive for over a decade during which they suffered every form of abuse and neglect imaginable. Finally, in Oklahoma, nine little school children were killed by the ravages of nature.
Our kids have some sense of at least some of these events and may or may not know the facts associated with them. Television, YouTube, and Facebook images blend into a yearlong pastiche of unexpected injury, death, and terror.
Here are some ways to talk to children about the events of the past year that can help them feel safe in their immediate lives even when the bigger world can be scary and unpredictable.
- Find out what children already know about tragedies highlighted in the media. Have they heard about Oklahoma, what do they remember about Newtown or Boston? Older kids will probably have more developed memories and opinions about these events.
- Gently probe to see if they worry about bad things happening in their lives, especially when trusted adults are not around. Again, older children and teens are more likely to be able to articulate concerns more openly while a young child may talk about being afraid that a monster will come to school. Some children may be more comfortable drawing their biggest fear than talking about it.
- Validate in age appropriate ways that bad things do sometimes happen to innocent people, even kids. Stress that this is not because the victim was bad or deserved it in some way; rather, things sometimes happen for reasons that we do not fully understand.
- Validate that when people are hurt or killed by a bomb, a gun, or a tornado, it can feel scary to others who hear about it.
- Remind them that even though it seems like there is often something in the news about kids getting hurt, most children stay safe in school, at home, in stores, movies, etc. It is actually very rare when something terrible happens and that is why it gets so much attention - because it is unusual. Use examples of how their own lives have been safe in school, at sports, at home.
- Point out that, even when something very bad happens in a neighborhood or community, many good people come out to help people who are hurt or scared or who have lost someone they love. You can also talk about the Red Cross and other first responders like EMTs, fire personnel, and police who are always ready to help someone in trouble.
- Focus on something kids can do to feel empowered. Making cookies and delivering them to their local precinct or fire house, writing a letter to the Red Cross thanking them for helping people who are hurt, collecting pennies for the Red Cross, writing and saying a special prayer for kids who are sick or hurt all are ways to help a child feel like they can have some impact in their own lives and in the lives of others.
The key here is not to sugar coat the dangers of life, but not to feed the beast of fear, emphasizing instead community and individual resilience while balancing the reality with the relative rarity of events like those of the past year.
We at Presby Psych hope this is helpful to you. If there are other mental health topics you would like us to address in a mailing or program for your church, school or community group, please let us know.