When Tragedy Happens

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We have all seen tragedy in the news feeds. We hear about school shootings, tornadoes, and terrible car wrecks. Do you shake your head and say “Good Grief! What next!!” I do. So what are we supposed to do with all the  messy emotions that come along with tragedy?

Visible coping skills may include voicing righteous indignation or anger at people involved or fear for our own loved ones. Please remember that young children are looking to adults for help to make meaning of the unthinkable.

OK… so how do we do that if we don’t understand it ourselves? Here are some things to think about…

Beware The Daily News

I’m not saying be out of touch with what’s going on in the world but sometimes we get too much information. This flood of tragedy may cause us to do too much thinking about events that we have no control over.

Turning on the news while we get ready for work and school is part of many families’ morning routine. Unfortunately, children lack some cognitive skills to be able to filter out the repeated stories of shootings, fires, war news, etc. To a young child, every time the news reports about a school shooting, it is like it just happened, again, and again, and again.  They experience increased anxiety and insecurity and their brain state becomes the fight, flight, or flee mode. Calming that brain state is the first step in working through the anxiety. This works in adults,too. This anxiety and need for safety may appear as challenging behavior at preschool, not wanting to play favorite games at elementary school, or being more emotional and feeling deeply the pain of others.

Developmentally, early childhood is the time when developing trust and security are so important. Erik Erickson, https://courses.lumenlearning.com/teachereducationx92x1/chapter/eriksons-stages-of-psychosocial-development/ states that the first important thing that babies learn is to trust the big people in their life.

As they grow, children need to know that they can venture out, be safe, and check in with their parents or trusted adult.

Older children and teens may want to talk about what everyone else is talking about. This is the social nature of many teens. They get caught up in the emotions and have very strong opinions. This flip side of this is the teen that just won’t talk about uncomfortable issues. Over talking and not talking are coping strategies for trying to make meaning of the tragedy. It is important for adults clue into the unspoken messages. Despite their “I’m OK” and “It’s cool”, our adolescents have a need for reassurance of safety and may want to stay close to home and parents for a while.

How To Help After Tragedy

  1. Turn off or limit the news and social media feeds. Filter what is allowed to come into your family.
  2. Have meaningful conversations with family members about what’s happening. What are your family values and how are you going to work through this situation.
  3. Check in for overwhelmed feelings in yourself and others.
  4. Seek help and support from friends, places of worship, mental health professionals.

Now What?

Dr. Pam Rinn, LMFT Associate

I can help you figure out how to work through tragedy. Adults and children may need some help in managing the tough stuff that life brings. It’s all about working together and finding the best solutions for your family. If you are interested in learning more about systemic family therapy please call me for a 15 minute consultation or to set up an appointment. 940-222-8703 Ext. 705

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