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Crisis Information for Families

Tell your students they are safe and reassure them that events such as these are very rare.

  • Physical reassurance is a great comfort for children.
  • Parents give your child a sense of security by physically holding and reassuring them.
  • Use simple sentences, such as, “We are all safe now” or “I will take care of you.”
  • Children need to be with their family and to feel safe.
  • Children need to know what they are expected to do if they ever encounter such an event.

Children will talk about horrible events when they are ready.

  • Let your child’s questions guide the discussion.
  • Create an environment or setting where young people may feel comfortable talking about their feelings.
  • Refrain from telling your child the incident is “nothing to be afraid of.”
  • Listen to their worries and acknowledge their feelings.
  • Gently express your own concerns: “I was worried too when I learned what happened”
  • Follow up with comforting words, such as: “But I was glad to know you were in a safe place”
  • Children need to know that parents and teachers understand and share their worries, but it’s best to wrap up the conversation in a positive way.
  • Children regain a sense of control by talking about the horrible occurrences.
  • Children regain a sense of control when they know what to do in a given situation.

Be calm, factual, and honest.

  • It’s important to talk to children honestly.
  • Too much information can be scary and confusing to young children.
  • Since parents and teachers often have their own feelings to deal with, this can be a delicate issue.
  • Parents and teachers must distinguish between their own and their children’s feelings.
  • It is essential that children are not burdened with the full extent of their parents’ or teachers’ worries.
  • Share your concerns in an age-appropriate way.
  • Try to avoid constant news broadcasts about the incident.
  • Some children may process each report as a new incident, not news about the same tragedy.
  • Remain as calm as possible; maintain routines as much as you can.
  • Adult conversations about horrible tragedies should be reserved for after children have gone to bed or are out of earshot.

Routines can help provide a sense of security.

  • Children find security in their routines.
  • As much as possible try to maintain business as usual with only brief time set-aside for discussion as needed.
  • Even in times of crisis children still need to be children.
  • They can’t be serious 24 hours a day; they still need to play.
  • Observe usual meal and bedtime rituals
  • Do not keep children at home, if schools are open, keep their routine?

Expect regressive or backward behavior.

  • Children may begin sucking their thumbs, wetting the bed, and they may become afraid of being left alone.
  • Regressive behaviors will go away in the days, weeks and months following a tragedy.
  • The more closely the child is related to the event the more likely regressive behaviors may occur and the more likely the behaviors may be intense.
  • If children’s fears or anxious behaviors persist, if children suffer from delayed reactions, or the child’s anxiety becomes irrational; parents should seek professional counseling.
  • Expect young people to be more clingy and suffer from more separation anxiety.

Limit exposure to the images of the incident.

  • It is important to be informed, but it can be harmful to constantly bombard children with excess information.
  • Only watch the evening news reports instead of allowing viewing of the ongoing 24-hour coverage of a tragic event.
  • Children need someone to talk to about the horrific events that we have witnessed or learned about.
  • Avoid making the incident unimportant or unreal.
  • Provide open, honest discussion that allows for exploration of a variety of emotions and opinions.
  • Work to help the child normalize the concern they are experiencing.

Do not make promises that you cannot keep.

  • Reassure children about their safety but don’t promise what you can’t guarantee.
  • For example, it’s better not to say: “I will keep you safe always,” or, “What happened in Connecticut will never happen here.”
  • Talk, share, ask and answer questions
  • Do not overload children with too much information at any one time.
  • Keep answers short and make sure you were answering the question asked.
  • Avoid volunteering information the child is not ready to hear.
  • Children’s concerns are dependent upon their developmental level, you would not say the same thing to a ten-year-old that you would to a 17-year-old.
  • Use open-ended questions to determine their level of understanding.

Help children identify their feelings and find safe ways to express them.

  • It is not uncommon in times of tragedy to see increases in violence and aggression.
  • Anger is a normal, healthy part of grief and feeling concerned over events we have no control over.
  • Help children find constructive ways to express their feelings.
  • Help young people maintain the realization that they only have control over what they and what they do.
  • Find ways for children to feel involved.
    • Encourage them to write letters, draw pictures or create a memorial.
    • Action is a positive antidote to the feelings of anger, helplessness, and powerlessness.
    • Model healthy ways of dealing with tragedy.
    • Light a candle for the victims, do a service project to help those in need.
    • Help your children and their friends find appropriate ways to express themselves.
    • Be sure to address the needs of ALL children as their presenting needs in one section of students may be very different from student to student.
    • Ask for help when helping young people cope with a tragedy.

Be aware of any long term emotional, physical or behavioral changes. While it is normal to see changes in all of these areas for a time, should those changes continue for long periods, do not be afraid to ask for professional guidance.

Take care of yourself. This is good modeling for children to know how to take care themselves.

Following a tragedy, parents should be alert to possible changes in a child’s behavior:

  • Refusal to return to school and “clinging” behavior, including shadowing the mother or father around the house
  • Persistent fears related to the catastrophe (such as fears about being permanently separated from parents)
  • Sleep disturbances such as nightmares, screaming during sleep and bedwetting, persisting more than several days after the event
  • Loss of concentration and irritability
  • Jumpiness or being startled easily
  • Behavior problems, for example, misbehaving in school or at home in ways that are not typical for the child
  • Physical complaints (stomachaches, headaches, dizziness) for which a physical cause cannot be found
  • Withdrawal from family and friends, sadness, listlessness, decreased activity, and preoccupation with the events of the disaster