The tornado that devastated the Missouri town of Joplin this last weekend is tragic and unnerving. It is hard to comprehend how so much life can suddenly be gone in such a short amount of time. It will take months, and possibly even years for the town to physically rebuild, but the emotional wounds for those involved will likely last a lifetime.
Trying to regain a sense of safety and security can be difficult after a tragic event like this for adults, but even more for children, who might have a hard time really grasping what happened, and the likelihood of it happening again. While there is no easy or fast solution for helping children deal with tragedy, there are some things that parents and caregivers can do that can help children cope.
A great article written by the National Association of School Psychologists right after the events of September 11, 2001 has a lot of information in helping children to cope with tragedy. While the article talks about terrorist attacks and war, the concepts are the same for any traumatic event. There is also information about developmental expectations for different age groups and how they see and deal with grief.
One of the most important things children need in trying to deal with tragedy and loss is a safe place/person to communicate with and talk to about their emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Often people are afraid to bring up or talk about the event for fear that they might bring the person more pain. The truth is, the person dealing with tragedy is always aware of it and often looking for an opportunity to talk to someone who they feel safe with about it. Sometimes children need help finding the words to communicate what they are feeling. They need to be listened to with patience and sensitivity.
Fred Rogers, better known as Mr. Rogers, had some great advice that he received from his mom in helping cope with tragic events. His mother told him when he was a child to look for the helpers in tragic events. Tragic events often bring people together. They can be seen helping to find those who are trapped, or in giving service to those who were affected by the event. You can take this idea a step further and help encourage children to become one of the helpers! Take the opportunity to teach children to start gaining sympathy and empathy for their fellow human beings. If you are far away from the event, donate to a local Red Cross or other organization that can help take relief to the site. Helping others can create peace and comfort in a time of turmoil, and help take away the sense of helplessness that often accompanies tragic events.