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What Parents Can Do
Suggestions for supporting children coping with an immediate loss:
  • Children need to hear the truth – simply announce the truth of what has happened.
  • Listen, listen, listen – don’t feel you need to talk all the time
  • Each child is unique and each situation is different – pay attention to the child’s signals of how much information they need and can understand and handle.
  • Children need prompt and accurate information and need to be allowed to ask questions.
  • Let them see your feelings of sadness but also your strength
  • You don’t have to have all the answers
  • Let them know you’ll get through this together
  • Let them know you will be there and take care of them and are ABLE to take care of them. They need to know they are not alone
  • Children are in as much pain as we are but often do not have the vocabulary to express their feelings. Help them put words on their feelings. (“You sound mad.” “You seem sad.” “You feel overwhelmed.” “You’re scared. ) Tell them how you are feeling.
  • Children grieve just as adults do however they frequently act out their grief rather than express it verbally.
  • Keep it simple…. Listen, hugs, tears, truth
  • Get the kids to talk – what are they feeling, thinking, needing. Again, you don’t need to do all the talking
  • If a child chooses NOT to talk we must respect that – don’t force it but let them know you are available.
  • Let children play – play is an important vehicle to allow children to work through their concerns and emotions.
  • Listen emphatically – you cannot fix it, make it better, or take their pain away. Validate their pain and their feelings. Feelings are not good or bad or right or wrong. They just ARE. I.e. Don’t say “you shouldn’t feel scared/sad/angry.” Say, “so, you’re scared.” Keep reflecting back what they feel. (Read “How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk,” by Adele Faber)
  • Anger is okay – being destructive or harmful to oneself or other is not. Be constructive with anger… scream, yell, pound a pillow, ride your bike until you are exhausted
  • Be present physically – spend time with your child. It’s okay for20them to see you cry but try to also let them see your strength and ability to cope.
  • Be as tactile as possible – cuddling, hugging, touching an arm or shoulder… even for grown “children.”
  • Acknowledge the tragedy. Explain and share the facts as best you can – without the knowledge of the real facts, children create their own “facts” sometimes even more terrifying than the real event.
  • Children grieve differently and children of different ages grieve differently.
  • The length of time spent in each “stage” of grief will vary and each child’s coping mechanisms will vary. Possible stages include denial, shock, anger, and profound sadness.
  • Kids grieve in SPURTS. Their attention span is shorter… they can go from crying to playing to tantrums to being quiet again all within a short period of time.
  • Kids need routine. Keep your daily routine and provide structure to their days.
  • Pay attention to your own levels of stress and shock and get support for yourself so you can be better able help your children
Each situation is different. Grief takes a lifetime …. But it doesn’t have to be a bad thing forever…. It does get better and life will go on. Children will learn compassion and empathy and grow and learn from the pain. However, there is no quick fix. There is no way around grief or to avoid grief. You have to go through it. Denying, or burying feelings is harmful in the long term.
Dr. Sandra Fox outlines Four Tasks children must work through as they mourn:
  • Understanding what caused the loss – what happened and why.
  • Grieving or experiencing the painful feelings associated with the loss
  • Commemorating the value of the loss
  • Going on with life by accepting and integrating the loss psychologically and emotionally within themselves.
Bill Worden has defined mourning as the entire “process of separating from the person who has died or left and adapting to the loss.” We must assist kids in their process for two reasons:
  1. They are not mature enough psychologically to acquire adequate coping skills on their own and;
  2. They look to us, their caregivers, for help during each developmental stage of childhood (age 3 to young adulthood):
    • Preschool
    • Latency
    • Preadolescence
    • Adolescence
To ensure that children develop and master emotional skills as they process an initial loss and then face perhaps more profound ones in the future, caregivers have three major functions:
  1. To foster honest and open relationships with children
  2. To provide a safe and secure space in which children can mourn (express their feelings)
  3. To be role models of healthy mourning
Caring for Our Children's Mental Health During Times of War and Global Violence 
1. First take care of yourself. Adults need to be in a calm and safe space in order to be there for their children.
2. Check in with children. Find out what they have heard, seen or know. Find out how they feel. Ask them to tell you or draw a picture.
3. Answer questions even if difficult but try to be age and development appropriate. You know your children best. 
4. Limit news and media exposure. Constant streaming feels like it is happening all around us constantly. Seeing violent images can be traumatic for anyone especially young people. 
5.  Let them know how you feel without overwhelming them. Tell them you are sad or angry or shocked. Then talk about healthy ways to process those emotions. 
6.  Be a good role model in self care. Talk to them about emotional regulation. Work on your own emotional regulation.  Teach them bellly breathing to help calm them.
7. Be reassuring. Help them feel safe. Talk to them about people, places and activities that help them feel safe. Help them to imagine being in a place like this when they are in a stressed situation.
8. Access your own and your children's mental health. If you are concerned please ask for help from a mental health professional or school guidance counselor or pediatrician.
9. BE a good listener. We can only listen when we aren't doing anything else. Give your child your undivided attention. Turn phones on silent and put it away. Mirror what your child is saying. Make sure you understand what they mean. Validate their feelings and give empathy.
10. Learn together about healthy coping skills and strategies. Let them see you model healthy coping. Going on walks, talking to friends, time in quiet, time in nature, getting enough sleep, eating healthy, journaling, exercise, caring for your own mental health, breathing exercises, healthy relationships, volunteering and helping others, music, art, etc. Make some lists of ideas for activities to do as a family.  
11. Listen to their point of view on current events. Don't lecture them or try to push your ideas on to them. Listen for their own understanding. Ask them how they came to their conclusions. 
12. If there are behaviors that they are exhibiting that concern you speak to a professional. Don't just assume its typical behavior and will go away. The sooner some issues are addressed the faster they can be treated.  
13. Teach the check in: Ask each other to check in first thing in the morning and then after work/school with a number 1-10. 10 can be the best day ever or they are feeling great, while 1 can be the worst day ever or feeling overwhelmed. Eventually you can move from numbers to feeling words. We can use the book by Dr. Marc Brackett, Permission to Feel and learn so many words to explain emotions. Words such as worried, anxious, insecure, bored, overwhelmed, worries, apathetic, numb, excited, peaceful, calm, relaxed... 
14. Conflict can create predjudice and discrimination against a people or a country. Avoid labels, like bad people. Encourage compassion, talking about famlies who had to feel their homes. Spread compassion, not stigma. Talk to your child about bullying behavior at school or in the community around people because of how they look or where they are from or what they believe. 
15. Focus on the helpers. Like Fred Rogers' mom used to tell him when he was a little boy and saw scary things in the news, look for the helpers there are always helpers. Children need to know that there are helpers all around. During 9/11 and the pandemic we tried to focus on all the helpers. That helps with processing traumatic information. Give your child opportunities to be a helper in some way at home, in the extended family, in their community, at school. There are so many ways to help. Help as a family.  
Signs of distress in children:
4-6 years
Clinging to adults
Change in eating and sleeping routines
Increased irritability
Not wanting to play
Taking on adult roles
Increased anxiety, worries
7-12 year
Frequently concerned about others
Change in eating and sleeping
Increased fears
Increased anxiety
 More irritable,
Poor memory and concentration
Physical symptoms (stomach ache, headaches)
Repetitive. play
Guilt, blame
13-17 Years
Somatic complaints
Intense grief
Excessive concern for others
guilt and shame
incrased defiance of authority
Feeling helpless 
Signs of depression
Challenges in school
Not spending time with friends 
Not engaging in hobbies or other interests
Angry outbursts
Seeming to be unphased  

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