Monday, January 10, 2011

Helping Kids Cope With Tragic National News

Comforting and Reassuring Your Children in the Wake of the Tragic Events in Arizona this Past Weekend

The tragic news of the attempted assassination of a United States Congresswoman and esteemed public servant, Representative Gabrielle Giffords--violence that took the lives of innocent bystanders as well as the life of a beautiful nine year old girl--has dominated the media this past weekend and will continue to dominate the news in the forthcoming days. The NCBLA has been receiving inquiries from parents and concerned adults in Arizona seeking suggestions as to how they can comfort their children, help their children understand what has happened, and  move forward with hope. 

Children of all ages across the country will be hearing about this weekend's tragic event not only because of saturated media coverage,but because kids and adults will be talking about it everywhere, in their classrooms and schools, at the supermarket, at after school activities--  especially because amongst those that died as result of this deplorable violence was a young person nine years of age.

In the wake of September 11th, the Association of Library Services for Children, a division of the American Library Association, compiled a list of websites that contained very helpful information for adults to help children cope in the aftermath of that great national tragedy, much of which, in general terms, is pertinent to this current situation. ( )

The ALSC list includes, for example, from James Garbarino, professor of human development and co-director of the Family Life Development Center at Cornell University, advice to parents on how they can help their children cope with the news of tragic attacks.  He is a nationally recognized expert on child development and youth violence.  

  • Children in general will need reassurance that they and their loved ones are safe . Young children particularly will need words and actions to communicate calm and safety rather than anxiety and fear. The evidence is clear that children cope best when adults avoid being incapacitated by fear and anxiety. Trying to restore regular routines is important to reassure children that normal life will resume.
  • Children already coping with loss and fear will need special reassurance . Who are these children? They are children who have parents away from home, who are involved in a divorce, who are hospitalized, who have lost a loved one recently, or who in some other way are specially worried about issues of safety, stability and security. Everyone connected with these "at risk" children must make special efforts to offer physical, emotional and intellectual nurturing and support.
  • Children will need a chance to ask their questions and get factual information to dispel misperceptions and rumors that will arise due to their immature reasoning and knowledge . Adults should make themselves available to children to listen and then respond rather than just lecturing them on what adults think is important. Hear and see the world through the ears and eyes of children to know what to do to help them.
  • Parents and other adults will naturally tend to become preoccupied, anxious, and sad by the disaster, but they must guard against this where children are concerned. If adults are "psychologically unavailable," children will suffer. This is a major issue. The message to parents is clear: Don't become glued to the television and unavailable to your children when they need you most. 
And from the late Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood: 
  • Do your best to keep the television off, or at least limit how much your child sees of any news event.
  • Try to keep yourself calm. Your presence can help your child feel more secure.
  • Give your child extra comfort and physical affection, like hugs or snuggling up together with a favorite book. Physical comfort goes a long way towards providing security. That closeness can nourish you, too.
  • Try to keep regular routines as normal as possible. Children and adults count on familiar patterns of everyday life.
  • Plan something that you and your child can enjoy together, like taking a walk or going on a picnic, having some quiet time together or doing something silly. It can help to know there are simple things in life that can help us feel better, both in good times and in bad.
  • Even if children don't mention what they've seen or heard in the news, it can help to ask what they think has happened. If parents don't bring up the subject, children can be left with their misinterpretations. You may be surprised at how much your child has heard from others.
  • Focus attention on the helpers, like the police, firemen, doctors, nurses, paramedics and volunteers. It's reassuring to know there are many caring people who are doing all they can to help in this world.
  • Let your child know if you're making a donation or going to a meeting, writing a letter or e-mail of support, or taking some other action. It can help children know that adults take many different active roles...and that we don't give in to helplessness in time of crisis.
Sometimes, in the midst of coping with tragic news themselves, adults cannot find the words they need to reassure and comfort their children and teens.  Taking a moment to read a book together and discussing that book can often help both children and caring adults find the words they need to talk about difficult things. Those books may deal specifically with tragedy and grief; but they may not. Often times, a story that appears to be totally unrelated to events at hand is the one that provides sustenance and comfort to a child.  For example, the classic story Charlotte's Web, is a book that can provide a grieving grade school age child with a cathartic experience, allowing that child to express his or her own feelings and emotions about death and dying.

In addition to the website previously suggested , we offer additional websites below where adults will find lists of books and information that will provide help in initiating loving and caring conversations with your children related to dealing with tragic events. 

We express our most heartfelt sympathies to the families, friends, and colleagues of all the victims of this act of violence in Arizona, and will keep them, and all those injured, in our hearts and prayers. As a not-for-profit organization that actively links literacy to historical literacy and civic engagement, it is our hope that the past weekend's events to do not discourage young people from civic engagement and public service. It is our hope that young people, and the adults in their lives, decide to educate and inform themselves so that they can be agents of non-violent positive change in our society and culture, using their many gifts and talents to make our nation a better, and safer place, for us all.  

Mary Brigid Barrett, President of The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance

Websites that may provide further help for parents, guardians, educators, and professionals. Although dealing with previous national tragedies, much of this information is pertinent to this past weekend's event. When  possible we have provided direct links. If they do not link directly, please copy and paste :