- Model calm and control. Reassure children that they are safe and so are the other important adults in their lives.
- Make time to talk with your children about crisis events. Take some time and determine what you wish to say. This is especially true since new information will unfold each day. Provide brief, accurate, and age appropriate information. Don’t dwell on the scale or scope of the tragedy, particularly with young children.
- Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate. Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their lives will not change. Upper elementary school children will be more vocal in asking questions about their safety and what is being done. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy.
- Understand what your child is asking. Difficult questions that children ask may be spurred by curiosity or feelings. Rather than plunging into an immediate answer, learn what motivates the question. Ask, “What made you think of that?” or “What ideas do you have?” Once the meaning of a question is known, it is easier to answer effectively.
- There may be questions we cannot answer. Rather than invent a response, it is more helpful to say “I don’t know,” or “I’ll try to find out.”
- Acknowledge, validate, and accept your child’s feelings. He or she may be feeling confused, frightened, or even excited. Listen calmly and reassuringly as they express their thoughts and feelings.
- Limit the amount of your child’s television viewing of these events. If they must watch, watch with them for a brief time; then turn the set off. Young children should not be allowed to watch tv coverage of the event, as they are too young to process what they are seeing and hearing.
- Maintain a “normal” routine. To the extent possible stick to your family’s normal routine for dinner, homework, chores, bedtime, etc. Children feel secure when routines are calmly followed.
- Spend extra time reading or playing quiet games with your children before bed without the television or news radio on. These activities are calming, foster a sense of closeness and security, and reinforce a sense of normalcy.
Common Signs that Children May be in Need of Extra Assistance
Children may demonstrate observable behaviors that signal feelings of distress and a need for additional support. Some of these include:
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Withdrawal from friends, family and regular activities
- Preoccupation with death
- Changes in behavior, appearance, thoughts and/or feelings
Other Helpful Resources Include:
- A Practical Guide for Crisis Response in Our Schools
The Connecticut School Shooting: How to Help Children Cope with Frightening News, What Parents Can Do to Aid Kids in Processing Grief and Fear in a Healthy Way (Child Mind Institute)
- AAMFT Family Therapy Magazine (FTM) Article from the March/April 2005 Issue, written by Alan Wolfelt, PhD., entitled "Why Is the Funeral Ritual So Important"
- AAMFT FTM Article from the January/February 2009 Issue, written by Lisa Pisha, MS, entitled "Fear and the Family"
- AAMFT FTM Article from the March/April 2011 Issue, written by Janis Spring, PhD., entitled "How Do We Forgive Someone Who Isn't Sorry - or Alive?"
- AAMFT Therapy Topics "Grieving the Loss of a Child" and "Bereavement and Loss", written by Margo Weiss, PhD. (these include many outside resources)
- AAMFT Therapy Topic "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder", written by Charles Figley, PhD. (this includes many outside resources)
Please note: The AAMFT encourages those who feel that they may need the help of a professional, to seek that help. If you are struggling with how to begin this process, please read the box at the bottom of this page about AAMFT's Research and Educational Foundation's directory TherapistLocator.net for a good place to start.
Contact AAMFT directly with any questions you may have about this information.
The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
112 South Alfred Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Phone: (703) 838-9808
*Too frequently lately our world has faced inexplicable and senseless tragedies. The AAMFT offers its thoughts, strength, and support to all victims of violence including those at the Boston Marathon and Sandy Hook Elementary.
*Special thanks to AAMFT's Connecticut Division for the tips and resources that they provided.
The AAMFT has also published the following related information on the website, available for the general public:
- Information about the loss of Clinical Fellow Nelba
Márquez-Greene's daughter, Ana Grace, in the Newtown Tragedy, and ways to support her
family and to honor her memory, found here.
- AAMFT Past President, Linda Metcalf, PhD, issues statement on tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary on Monday, December 17th, 2012, found here.
- AAMFT issues statement on tragedy at the Boston Marathon on Tuesday, April 16, 2013, found here.