Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Children Coping With Tragedy

Since I normally do not watch t.v., especially during the daytime hours, I was unaware of what had been happening during the Boston Marathon.  My oldest daughter, home from middle school, had plopped herself on the couch with a snack and a remote to catch a few minutes of her favorite Disney Channel shows.

Before she could seek out her show, a 'News Alert' announcement flashed across the screen.  "Mom?  What happened?" she asked with a worried frown on her face.

I walked over to see what she meant and together, we sat down, trying to absorb the grim reality of what appeared to have happened just moments earlier. 

As the information clicked together, I suddenly had to face that my television companion was not fully understanding of what we were watching and most likely was a bit confused and scared.  Especially when the screen announced the number of causalities and total number of victims.  She reached for my hand and gave it a squeeze.  The unspoken words seemed to say, "Are we safe?"

"Yes.  Yes. Yes." I said outloud.  "Don't worry.  We are safe.  This happened far from us and I am certain, we are safe."

My daughter relaxed a bit and I used the remote to change the channel, hopefully signaling that there truly was nothing to worry about.

A few minutes of her program and I announced that it was time to pick up her little sister.  We shut the television off and didn't turn it back on for the rest of the night. 

Sadly, tragic news, especially for children who are already coping with huge amounts of stress, magnify anxiety. 

I have encountered this a few times.  The Sandy Hook Elementary shooting was not only scary for both of my daughters, but stress inducing as well.  Our school system handled the information sharing in an age-appropriate way but many of their peers knew more or had been exposed to detailed information that they shared in the cafeteria and on the playground to my girls.  The talk from their friends was frightening, especially from the child that said, "My mom told me to run all the way home so I do not get shot."  Which then led to my daughter asking if she was going to be shot if she stayed at school. 

While, we as adults, understand the complexity of tragedy and how a single event does not define the future, children are literal and can't necessarily separate one bad incident from the whole.  For a week after, my youngest daughter asked me to walk her into school.  Unfortunately, at the same time, our school was instituting new security procedures and asked for parents to strictly comply with drop-off procedures.  My daughter and I compromised with me pulling right up to the front door and giving her a big wave as she walked into the building, hopefully reassuring her that if mom wasn't worried, neither should she be. 

I think it worked but it is hard to tell with her as she internalizes much of what she hears and sees.  Part of this has been her coping mechanism of dealing with type 1 diabetes.  It worries me and I try to help diffuse as much of the anxiety as I can by giving her tricks to lesson the worry.  She probably is tired of me saying it, but my favorite comment is, "Let mom and dad do the worrying for you.  Your number one job is to be a kid." 

Before I sent my oldest daughter to school today, I took a few moments in our early morning alone time to ask if she had any questions about what she saw on television.  I explained that some kids may come to school and want to talk about it or perhaps, her teachers might open a discussion like they did when Sandy Hook made the news.

Her only question was this:

"Why did someone have to do that to those runners?"

And sadly, while I know I explained something about mental illness, I too, wonder the same thing.....


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