As a clinical social worker, I am often called on for help and advice by parents and teachers after the experience of tragedy and loss. Most adults involved also are experiencing the distress caused by the traumatic event. Through my own research, I found that children as young as 6 do feel grief and need to explore their feelings surrounding the event. Children don’t always experience the same response to these events as adults, and oftentimes, they experience a delayed response. Therefore their feelings are sometimes misinterpreted or-worse- ignored.
Depending on the age of the child and the effects on the family, my advice is varied. If a child is younger than two and no family members have been involved in the tragedy, I would not discuss it with the child or not let him view it on television. At the nursery school and primary school levels, I would explain that a very bad event happened and the bad people who caused the problem would be punished. In the intermediate and higher grade levels, the child should be told of the event by a parent(s) and allowed to view the coverage (for short periods of time) with their parent (s). Answering their questions and spending reflective, quiet time with their families is important as is continuing with the daily routines. Adolescents may appear to be old enough to accept the event and handle their feelings but they actually do need parental/peer support. Parents might encourage reaching out to the victims or volunteering their services as a productive use of energy. Personal loss must be handled differently for all ages. Remember, we are our children’s role models. They watch us and respond to our feelings and behaviors.
To learn more about how to help our children deal with these public tragedies please visit Dr. Jarolmen's blog