Ask the Experts: Coping After Tragedy - MetroFamily Magazine
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Ask the Experts: Coping After Tragedy

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Three local experts weigh in on their best strategies for helping kids cope after a tragedy.

To find more answers to other common parenting questions, check out our collection of Ask the Experts.

Dr. Anne K. Jacobs: The first step in supporting your kids after scary events is to manage your own anxiety. Regardless of what you say, children will respond to your emotions and behavior so give yourself a chance to process the event. But keep in mind that kids may be listening in when you talk with other adults.

Give children brief, factual information about the event in easy-to-understand terms. Let them ask questions if they want more details and follow their lead. Kids tend to be more resilient when they can take age-appropriate steps when facing scary events. It is important to reassure your children that they are safe and talk with them about preventive steps we take to stay safe.

Supporting children also means taking action. Develop and practice your family’s safety plan, help clean up an affected area or make donations helpful organizations.

Monitor media access for younger kids and watch the news together with your older kids and teens to help them process the information. Take breaks together to rest and rejuvenate by turning off the news, setting aside time to focus on family. After scary news, kids may become more clingy or regress a bit developmentally (i.e. want to sleep with parents, etc.). It is perfectly okay to allow time for this as long as you have plan to gradually help them return to their normal routine.

Remember, you are not alone. Our community has child professionals available to consult if your child or teen is showing an extreme reaction or continues to struggle over time. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has online resources to help parents in the aftermath of a crisis.

Anne K. Jacobs earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Child Psychology from the University of Kansas and enjoys serving children, adolescents and their families. In addition to her private practice in Edmond, she holds an adjunct faculty position at Southern Nazarene University. Her family includes husband, Noel who is also a child psychologist; twin daughters, Keegan and Sarah; one dog, two cats, and five tarantulas.


Dr. Lisa L. Marotta: In working with families who are coping with tragedy, I notice that children are able to recall where they were, who informed them and what was said when they got the news. We return to these details in processing the tragedy as a grounding point for the child, which is why it is best that your child hears from you if possible and that you demonstrate yourself to be an honest and credible resource.

Tell the truth to your children, even if the truth is hard to bear. Tell a story that has a definite beginning, middle and end. Leave out the gory details, but be honest about the facts as you understand them. Be gentle and provide reassurance that you are ready to listen, comfort and keep them safe.

Mister Rogers taught us to direct children to “look for the helpers” when something bad happens in the community. In compassion for others that are hurting, we share in their sadness. Find a way for your family to help. This will be meaningful and empowering to your child.

Teaching your child to cope through helping is a life-long example that will serve them well.

Dr. Lisa L. Marotta is celebrating 22 years of private practice. She is a clinical psychologist in Edmond with a special heart for women, children and families. Dr. Marotta enjoys writing, public speaking and blogging. She and her husband Sal have two young adult daughters.

Courtney Chandler: As parents and caregivers, we have the ability to foster the recovery of children following scary events that occur in our community. Through love, support and reassurance, we can help them feel safe and secure. Often, parents shy away from sharing information about these bad events to protect children from the scary thing that has happened. Unfortunately, our children are exposed to these issues everywhere: through the media, peers, family members and society itself. Children want to feel safe so it is important to discuss with a child what has happened. Give brief details about the event. Listen to your child and make sure to acknowledge their feelings. Encourage them to ask questions or to discuss the event with you or another trusted adult. If you are struggling to address these issues with your child, seek help from a parenting support group or a mental health professional to discuss the best ways to approach your child.

Courtney Chandler is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy and play therapist working for Sunbeam Family Services, a non-profit organization in Oklahoma City. Courtney is passionate about the power of play therapy and enjoys working with children, adolescents and their families

To find more answers to other common parenting questions, check out our collection of Ask the Experts.

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