Talking With Kids About Tragedy

These days it seems like every time we turn around there is another tragedy.  Something that seems senseless.  Something that we, even as adults, have a hard time comprehending or understanding ourselves. 

When these events occur, it’s important to take some time to talk to our children about what’s happening.  Why?  Because they are going to hear about it.  And your best explanation of a difficult situation is better than no explanation at all.  Here are five tips to help get your conversation started:

Consider their developmental level.  Young children don’t necessarily need to know about every tragedy.  They are happy and carefree and we can and should keep them that way as long as possible.  Preschoolers up to kindergarteners (and even first graders) can be shielded from hearing about most situations.  But school aged children are VERY likely to hear about tragedies from their peers, teachers, or the media so as a parent it’s important to talk to your kids yourself.  When you do talk to your children, talk to them using vocabulary that they understand and using examples that are appropriate to their developmental level.

Be honest.  My thinking has always been that I would rather my children hear about something difficult from me first than on the playground from one of their friends.  If armed with accurate information from their parents, children are better able to process truth (and fiction) presented by their peers.  I also want my children to know that I will not lie to them, even when the topic is scary.  Stay calm when you’re talking with your kids and using your own words say something like: “A sad thing happened that I wanted to talk with you about.  There was an explosion in Boston while people were running in a race, the Boston Marathon.  A bomb caused the explosion.  Some people were injured and sadly some people died.  There were also a lot of people there who were not hurt and who helped those who did get injured.  I don’t know why this happened or who put the bomb there but the police are investigating it and over time we will know more.  I wanted to tell you about it so that you would know what was going on and could ask me any questions that you have.  I may not have the answers,but it’s always important to me to be honest with you even about difficult things.”  [Read more...]

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School Shootings: The Sad Reality of Mental Health Care For Children

People everywhere are searching for answers.  Looking for a reason that this massacre occurred.  Guns.  No prayer in school.  Video games.  Violence in the media.  Mental illness.  You name it.  When something terrible happens, it is our natural societal response to search for a cause.  We can’t help ourselves.  It’s a defense mechanism of sorts, used as we try to come to terms with such an unthinkable tragedy.

But if I was the parent of any of these precious children, I can promise you that knowing the cause wouldn’t help.  My child would be gone forever and no answer would change that devastating fact.  No more kisses and hugs.  No tucking them in at night.  No growing up.  Nothing.  Gone.

The parent side of me knows that.  The child psychologist in me knows another story.  I speak from the trenches, not as the parent trying to access services, but as the child psychologist helping parents navigate the system day in and day out.  I firmly believe that our mental health system is not the reason this massacre occurred.  Adam Lanza is.  But he clearly suffered from serious mental health problems.  And this tragedy should serve as a wake up call to change our mental health care system now.  By doing so we could very likely prevent this devastation from occurring again in yet another classroom, movie theater, or shopping mall.

Currently in my community I can count on one hand the number of child psychologists and psychiatrists available to assist children.  That means that if you are concerned about your child and want to access outpatient services then you will have to wait.  For a long time.  I’m talking months.  There are waiting lists in my state that are a year long.  Can you imagine being told that you may have cancer but you won’t be able to be seen by a doctor to discuss your diagnosis and treatment options for six months?  That’s what it feels like to parents who have children with serious mental health issues waiting to be seen.  Unimaginable.  There simply aren’t enough child psychologists and psychiatrists to go around.

If you are fortunate enough to get an appointment after your agonizing wait, you then have to either be wealthy enough to pay for it out of your pocket or lucky enough to have health insurance that covers outpatient mental health services adequately.  Good luck with that.  In my experience, the inability to pay eliminates the opportunity for quality mental health care for the majority of children.  If they can’t pay, parents are told to ask their pediatrician for advice because then it might be covered under their health insurance policy.  They are advised to get help instead from their school counselor because that would be free.  Those options might seem like good ones, but behind the scenes the pediatricians are equally outnumbered by the volume of mental health care patients, and typically one school counselor is responsible for the mental health needs of an entire school. [Read more...]

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School Shootings: Your Follow Up Questions Answered

Yesterday was one of the saddest days in our nation’s history.  As we wake up today we’re still left with so many unanswered questions.  And heartache.  My heart truly hurts as a mom.  I can’t imagine, I don’t want to imagine, what these families are going through.

I wrote the post School Shootings: How To Talk With Your Kids About Unthinkable Tragedy shortly after I learned about the massacre at Sandy Hook.  I know a lot of you are out there having these difficult conversations this weekend with your kids.  I feel for you and am right there with you having the same gut wrenching talks at my house.  I’ve gotten a few follow up questions from my last post, and I wanted to share with you my answers to help you along your journey.

Should we let our young kids watch the news related to the shooting?

To be honest, I have purposefully avoided television news since the shooting occurred.  It’s not good for my mental health.  It’s just too overwhelming.  I stay up to date on the news via the internet and only from reputable news organizations.  So, my opinion would be don’t let your young kids watch television news about this tragedy.  It’s pretty scary and graphic and you have no control over what is being shown to them.  As you know, once they see something on television it can’t be unseen.  On the other hand, if there is a newspaper article or internet post you think would be suitable to share with your child then take some time to read it with them and then talk about it.  It’s not that kids shouldn’t know the news surrounding this event, it’s that they shouldn’t be consumed by it in the way that television news has a way of doing. [Read more...]

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