Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mindful Parenting: Responding to Tragedy

Though difficult, it is essential that parents, teachers and caregivers stabilize themselves after a tragedy occurs, so that they can create a solid foundation for their children. Here are some tips to help us cope when faced with unbearable situations:

1. Be as calm and centered as possible. Your children model your behavior. If you are scared they will be; if you act like you are in control, they will feel safe. When chaos reigns it is essential that the adults create a safety zone around the family.

2. Ask your child what they know about the event. Try to elicit as much information as possible, by encouraging your child to talk, draw, or tell you a story, that you will write down and they will illustrate. In this way the children are allowing their thoughts and feelings to be expressed. This is vital.

3. Answer questions directly but do not elaborate. Once you understand how your child has processed the information that has seeped into their world you are ready to speak with them, at their level.  End each discussion with a reassurance that your child, your family, your school and your community are safe.

4. Try to normalize as quickly as possible. Routines help everyone feel secure. They are familiar and predictable and therefore following routines helps children and adults.

5. Expect symptoms to erupt. For example, children may have difficulty falling asleep, or staying asleep. they may have dreams or nightmares that wake them up. They may not want to be alone in a room or to separate to go to a playdate. They may be scared to go to school. Stomaches and headaches are common ways that children express their anxiety. Other regressive behaviors including crying, irritability and hyperactivity may occur as well. Attend to these behaviors, and if they persist beyond 2-3 weeks, or if they seriously interfere with a child's ability to function, seek professional help.

6. Young children will not understand death. They will ask questions repeatedly or avoid the topic all together. Allow them space to do either. If their are changes in their normal behaviors try to help them discuss their feelings via play, drawing, reading books and talking about the questions that they may have but are not asking. It may be painful for the adult, but if you are not open the child will know it, and will stop short of expressing their true feelings and thoughts.

7. Children with special needs are more vulnerable. Children who have a history of emotional or learning issues will have a harder time processing and dealing with the tragedy. They may not fully comprehend the situation. If they do, they may exaggerate the threat to themselves. It is wise to consult a mental health professional to help you if your child is having difficulty in reaction to a tragedy.

These tips provided by Dr. Susan Lipkins, a psychologist and nationally recognized expert in traumatic issues/events which confront children, tweens and teens.

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