Waking up to yesterday’s tragic news was so sad and heartbreaking. In the moment, I decided not to share the news with my kids, but I also knew that they would hear about it at school. I guess I just wanted to shelter and protect them. We reside in Urbandale and my kids are classmates of Urbandale Police Officers’ kids and they’re also our neighbors. In addition, we’ve had the privilege of meeting several officers at community events like Movies in the Park and National Night Out. I knew the questions would come.
To prepare myself, I started researching tips for discussing tragedies with kids. I thought I would share some of the information that I found, in case you were experiencing some of the same issues. (Like, being infuriated at the gunman for making me have this conversation with my innocents!)
Helping your kids cope with tragedy:
- Be honest about your emotions, but be strong.
- Children will learn to cope and manage stress from seeing you cope.
- Limit your child’s media exposure.
- If you choose to let your child watch TV, as much as possible, watch TV with your child so that you can have conversations about the tragedy.
- Listen to your children express their feelings.
- Be affectionate with your child.
- Calmly give factual info, or your child may speculate to fill in the gaps. Be age-appropriate with your explanations: give simple, brief explanations to young children, and more details to older children.
- Be consistent — stick to your normal routines as much as possible.
- Find a way for your family to put your worries into action: write a letter, make a donation or send a token of appreciation to the fallen officers’ families or to the police department, participate in a community event, etc.
Helping relieve your child’s fears:
- Be calm.
- Listen to your child’s concerns.
- Explain how schools and authorities have plans to keep them safe.
- Advise your child that we can’t let events keep us from living our lives, or defeating us.
- Don’t expect these symptoms in most kids, but if they do occur, it may mean a need for special attention for the child:
- Irritability and loss of concentration,
- Uncharacteristic behavior problems,
- Stomachaches, headaches, dizziness with no apparent cause,
- Withdrawal from friends and family; sadness, lethargy, and
- Difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite or compulsive eating.
- Amanda the Panda – A Family Grief Center in West Des Moines, they offer comprehensive and ongoing services for children, teens, adults and families. The organization created the following PDF after yesterday’s tragedy, Amanda The Panda Helping Children After Community Tragedy. The PDF Misconceptions about Helping Grieving Children is also a very useful document for kids experienceing grief.
- Blank Children’s Hospital – Their article, “Helping Children Cope with Tragedy”, provides some great information about talking to kids after a traumatic event.
- Iowa 4-H Clover Kids – Iowa State University Extension has created a list of resources to give adults the information that they need to help children. “Because You Asked… Children and Tragedy“, contains specific resources for children and youth.
- Iowa Department of Human Services – The Iowa Disaster Behavioral Health Response Team (DBHRT) is a trained team of volunteers who respond to the mental health needs of Iowa residents following disasters and critical incidents. They also provide an extensive list of resources to assist families to cope with a number of disasters.
Our hearts and condolences go out to the Des Moines and Urbandale Police Departments, the family and friends of the fallen officers and our whole community as we deal with this loss.