Save the Children, a development organization based only 20 miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., encourages families to employ the following tips to help children cope with last week’s tragedy.
The organization will also offer counseling and support to Newtown community members affected by this horrific event.
Save the Children officials caution parents, teachers, grandparents and other caregivers that these dramatic images and discussions can affect the emotional well-being of children and offers these tips to help kids through any disaster, emergency or crisis.
Limit television time
Although it can be important for adults to stay informed about the situation, television images and reports may be confusing and frightening for children. Watching too many television reportscan overwhelm children, so limit the number of television reports about thesituation you and your children watch.
Listen to your children carefully
Try to find out what your child knows and understands about thesituation before responding to their questions. Children can experience stress when they do not understand dangerous experiences. Find out what your child knows about the crisis. Then, talk to your child to help him or her understand the situation and ease their concerns.
Give children reassurance
Tell children that adults are doing everything they can to protect and help children who have been affected by the tragedy. Also, let them know that if an emergency happens, your main concern would be their safety. Make sure they know they are being protected.
Be alert for significant changes in behavior
Caregivers should be alert to any significant changes in children’s sleeping patterns, eating habits and concentration levels. Also watch for wide emotional swings or frequent physical complaints. If any of these actions do happen, they will likely lessen within a short time. If they continue, however, you should seek professional help and counseling for the child.
Understand children’s unique needs
Not every child will experience a disaster in the same way. As children develop, their intellectual, physical and emotional abilities change. Younger children will depend largely on their parents to interpret events; older children and adolescents will get information from various sources, such as friends and the media. Remember that children of any age can be affected by a disaster. Provide them all with love, understanding and support.
Give your children extra time and attention
Children need close, personal attention to know they are safe. Find time to engage in special activities with children of all ages.
Be a model for your children
Your children will learn how to deal with these events by seeing how you respond. The amount you tell children about how you’re feeling should depend on the age and maturity of the child. You may be able to disclose more to older or more mature children, but remember to do so calmly.
Watch your own behavior
Make a point of being sensitive to those impacted by the crisis. This is an opportunity to teach your children that we all need to help each other.
Help your children return to a normal routine
Children usually benefit from routine activities such as set eating times, bedtimes and playtimes. Parents should make sure their children’s school is also returning to normal patterns and not spending a lot of time discussing the disaster.
Encourage your children to do volunteer work
Helping others can give children a sense of control and security and promote helping behavior. During a disaster, children and adolescents can bring about positive change by supporting those in need