As a nation we are all grieving the loss of the children and adults that were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Our hearts are filled with pain, sadness, anger and confusion about this senseless tragedy.
Events like this trigger fears and concerns for our safety and those of our children. Death is always difficult yet it seems more so during the holidays.
Children too are deeply affected. TV brings events into our living room and we are much more informed and aware of terrible acts of violence. Even the youngest of children can sense something is wrong. Small children don’t understand the concept of death. Older children, even into young adulthood, may act like nothing is wrong, but can be deeply affected emotionally and not understand those emotions or what to do.
If you are a parent, here are some things you can do to help your children process their emotions from a tragedy like this:
- Be extra attentive to your children and talk about what happened. Your child may be deeply affected by this tragedy and also may fear for their life and yours. - Be open about your emotions and feelings about what happened. - Reinforce your love and concern for your children. - Watch your children for reactions and ask them what they are feeling. - Never, ever judge your children for their emotions or feelings. This is a natural process and by expressing and understanding their emotions, they will develop more emotional intelligence.
If you have suffered the loss of a child or family member, grief support will help you understand grief, be with others who understand what you are going through and receive help on how to navigate the darkness.
- There are grief support programs that focus on supporting children through loss. It’s critical for a child’s healthy emotional development to participate in grief counseling whether it is group or one-on-one. - Realize that during the holidays, grief may surface again both in yourself and your children. - Talk about your loved one who died. Go to special places or eat special foods that he or she loved. My father died last year and a special tradition we have as a family is to go to the Christmas concert he sang in for many years. It brings us closer to him and his memories. Even though it is sad for me and I still shed tears, there is joy in the music that brought him so much happiness. - If your children are having a difficult time with their grief or even talking about death, there are many wonderful children’s books that help them understand how to go about healing.
I am a volunteer grief facilitator and one of the things that people need most when they are grieving is acceptance from the people around them. When I was in high school, one of my good friends lost her father. That’s particularly a difficult time because no one wants to stand out or be thought of as different than everyone else. As a friend, I was just there for her. I didn’t tell her what to think or if what she was thinking was right or wrong. I had long forgotten the care and support I had given her until years later when I was looking at my yearbook and she had thanked me for being there for her during such an awful time. I am so grateful to have been a support for her.
Grief is not really understood or accepted by our society. You can make a difference and be with someone who is suffering from grief without having to solve their problems or make them feel better. You simply need to accept them where they are and can even sit quietly beside them, hold their hand or offer a caring hug.