I don’t normally do two posts on the same day, but I didn’t want this one to wait till tomorrow. In light of recent events there has been some talk online about how we talk to children about tragedy. I won’t claim to have all the answers, but I will offer my thoughts. I hope you find them helpful.
- Be Available: One of the major take aways for me from the 2013 Orange Conference was the value of being available to kids. Sometimes just being there is more valuable than anything we might say or do. When I say be available I mean COMPLETELY available. This means setting aside all the many mental distractions that come with life. This means ignoring your phone, even if it rings. You can call them back later. In times of tragedy kids need something stable. You may not know what to say, but you can be that stable thing that this child can hold onto while the rest of their world seems to fall apart.
- I don’t know: It’s ok not to have all the answers. As adults, especially men, we tend to want to fix things. Don’t try to have the answers to all of the child’s questions. It’s ok to be vulnerable and let them know that you are just as confused about all of this as they are.
- I’m scared: Kids in tragedy are often very afraid. Well, guess what, adults often are too. Don’t be afraid to let the child know that you are scared too, if you are.
- I’m NOT scared: While the child you are trying to help may be afraid, you may not be. Don’t fabricate fear in order to try to relate with the child. The goal is to connect with the child. Lying to them will have the opposite effect.
- Let them talk: There are not many instances in a child’s life where an adult shows genuine interest in what they have to say. Let this be one of those few times. Try not to speak, but only to listen. If you must speak, ask questions aimed at helping the child to express how they feel. Questions that can be easily answered yes or no will halt the conversation.
- Silence is golden: There are two sides to this one.
- Not every child WANTS to talk about it. They may simply want someone to play with. They may be looking for a diversion from the tragedy. While never dealing with the pain could cause problems later, it doesn’t mean that they have to talk about it RIGHT NOW.
- During a conversation, especially a difficult one, it can be uncomfortable to allow moments of silence. Resist the desire to fill up every moment with words. Silence can allow a child time to think. Silence can give the child time to build up the courage to enter into a deeper conversation. Allow silence to happen. If the silence is not yet uncomfortable to you, then it probably has not been long enough. Let the silence continue.
- Ok, I know I said 2, but here is another one. Sometimes people going through these times just need to know you are there for them. Sometimes the most therapeutic thing you can do is simply sit next to them and NOT TALK.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope that it helps you to deal with kids going through tragedy.
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