The world is not always a predictable place. Sometimes it can be just cruel and awful. This week, the incident involving the Malaysian Airlines passengers flying above the Ukraine has been a terrible example of the unexpected side of the people of our world. Our special wishes need to be extended to all of those who are some way involved or related to those who lost their lives in the tragedy.
News of such a tragedy usually starts to flood our heads and our homes via screens or over the sound waves. Often, the updates are accompanied by graphic pictures on the television and in the papers. Special updates interrupting normal viewing or listening habits. Our conversations and our tones of voice change. So, it is important that we are mindful of our children’s responses to these kinds of events. The way that we react can affect the way that they react and how they learn about the world and coping when tragedies occur.
If your child seems to be upset about it, how do you explain or counsel them when it is truly an atrocity?
Depending on your child’s age and understanding, you may want to explain the known circumstances. For a late primary school child, if they have questions, you may like to get out a map and just briefly (and age appropriately) explain the goings on in the Ukraine – “a place where people are fighting about who should run and make decisions about their country”. The newspapers have some handy diagrams you can use to explain the areas of the world that are involved. Look for reliable and sensible information and screen it first before showing your child.
It might also be handy to explain to your child that whenever their is an awful event, some people who are sad will sometimes get angry or want to blame someone. You might see or hear some of these people in the news. Sometimes sad people want answers to their questions. Some questions have no easy answer or the right answers can take time to get. it is understandable that people might be upset. More anger usually doesn’t fix things, but if your child feels angry, help them to express it. They might like to write a letter to someone they think is important or who they think could make thing better in the future.
If your child is sad, in a grieving kind of way, they might like to write about their feelings, draw a picture, light a candle or plant a flower or shrub in the garden. They may need a little extra time at bedtime and a few more hugs. It is perfectly okay to feel upset by upsetting events.
If your child is anxious, it can be helpful to reassure them about the things that you know. Be sure to explain about the role of news broadcasts in our lives. I like to tell children that the reason news is called “news” is because it’s not something that happens every day. If it was something that happened every day, it would not really be “news”. We might even have to call it “olds”. “CHARLIE EATS BREAKFAST” is not a common headline. Charlie eats breakfast every day. It’s not a “news” thing. It happens everyday. The news reporters like to talk about things that don’t happen very often. The reason these event are news is because it is something that happens, thankfully, very rarely. The chances of it happening are usually very small. While this horrible situation did actually happen, it would be silly and sad to spend time ruining our life with worry about something that happened so rarely. I also usually say that
“if worry really could help, then I would tell everyone to worry their hearts out”
but worry just tends to make us uptight and upset and we are better to spend that thought space being kind to others and doing nice things.
If your child is truly distressed, it is a really important time to try to make life as predictable as it can be. Try to make bedtimes and meal time’s routine. Do whatever you might normally do. It can be tricky when normal television programming is replaced with scenes of a traumatic incident. If that is happening a lot at your place, maybe switch off the news channels. It might be a good time to get out a packet of cards or a board game and have a family games night instead of watching the “tele”.
If your child starts to change their behaviour (more fearful, clingy, challenging than usual) over a lengthy period of time they may need some extra help. Be sure to let your child’s teachers and other carers know that they are not quite themselves. Talking to your GP is a good place to start. Your doctor can help you workout if further psychological intervention might be needed.