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Talking to Children about Violent Incidents and Addressing Grief: Tips for Parents and Educators

The past few days Cyprus society is overwhelmed by the loss of children and other violent incidents that leave pain and worry in regards to the circumstances that led to this situation. 

Affected from the dramatic events are among others, children who are either related in some way to the children who passed away or have been informed about these incidents from the media or the people around them. For this reason, it is very important parents and educators to be aware of some important information on how to guide and support children. 

Below, there are some guidelines regarding a common approach that parents and educators can follow in order to help children feel secure and express their unpleasant feelings or worries.  

Reaffirm Safety: 

Children may feel afraid and insecure after the incident. It is important to reassure them that adults around them are taking every action to keep home and school as safe places. At the same time respect and validate any emotion they may have and support them to express it in a constructive way. However, don’t try to guarantee that something bad will never happen. 

Be open to discussion: 

Show your intention to discuss with your child/student about the incident and wait with patience the time that the child will feel like talking. Sometimes children do not ask for discussion directly, but they are trying to spend more time with you. You can provide information according to the child’s questions, not more. It is important to encourage additional ways of expression, e.g. writing or creating an artistic project.   

Observe children’s emotional state: 

Changes in behaviour and appetite, sleep difficulties, or avoidance going to school may be indicators that the child has an increased level of anxiety or frustration. This is anticipated and will start decreasing with reassurance, care, and support. In case this situation insists or the child belongs to a vulnerable group (e.g. special needs or having experienced other difficult situations recently) seek a mental health professional ‘s support. 

Maintain a normal routine: 

Keep a regular schedule to ensure physical and mental health. Encourage children to follow their school and extracurricular program, but do not push them if they seem overwhelmed.  

Limit TV and media exposure: 

Limit television viewing and avoid having it on in common areas. Encourage children to be preoccupied with daily activities instead of following news in social media. Inappropriate information can cause fear, anxiety, and confusion. Also, be careful with adult discussions in front of children and avoid emotionally charged comments (especially with negativity or criticism). 

Accept the grieving procedure: 

Be nonjudgmental and acknowledge all intense feelings the child may have. Leave space for mourning and at the same time for happy moments. Common grief reactions are: sadness, anger, social withdrawal, decreased appetite, difficulties with sleep and concentration, emotional numbness. Be simple and straightforward, e.g. speak about ‘death’ and avoid inaccurate phrases like ‘departed, is sleeping, went away’. Feel free to express your own sorrow, too, showing that it is a normal human reaction. Show respect and support the ways the child chooses for expression (e.g. their decision to go or not to a funeral, their choice to wear specific clothes, their need to write or say something about the person who has died etc.) 

Keep explanations developmentally appropriate: 

When speaking with adolescents, you can share more details and explain the resources they can use for support. Towards younger children, be more concrete and brief. In any case, be ready to answer questions and even repeat the same things many times for better understanding and reassurance. 

Keep up school-family partnership: 

Schools should set up a crisis intervention team for the support of students and their families, as well as school’s staff, depending on the nature of the incident. Be informed by the school about accurate updates, when available. 

The present guidelines are offered by the professional team of “Hope For Children” CRC Policy Center, who are available on a 24/7 basis to provide any further information or support. Feel free to contact us at 22103234 or through HFC’s online chat platform at www.uncrcpc.org.cy  

References: Resources from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) were used. 

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