10 Tips to Help Children Cope with Tragedy

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Our world was rocked Friday, when a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary in the small town of Newtown, CT and killed 28 people. As news of the events lit up social networks, parents throughout the country experienced a roller coaster of emotions. Many of my friends are parents of children the same ages as those killed, and they raced to their children’s schools to pick them up early, and hold them close.


When a tragic event like this occurs, the impact is felt around the world, as parents and children experience a loss of security. Save the Children is extremely saddened by the events in Newtown, only 20 miles from its Westport, Conn. headquarters, and are helping local authorities and partners as needed. One of the challenges for parents in Connecticut is coping with this tragic event, while also providing their children with support.

Save the Children opened a Child Friendly Space in Newtown’s Reed Intermediate School, to give local children a safe place to play and express themselves while their parents receive counseling and support. Child Friendly Spaces were developed by Save the Children, based on decades of experience protecting children during times of crisis, and helping them recover from disaster, crisis and emergencies all over the world.  They’re  also prepared to help children who are exposed to indirect effects of a crisis.

Here are 10 Tips, from Save the Children, to help children cope with tragedy:

1. Limit television time. While adults want to stay informed about the situation, many images and reports on television may be confusing and frightening for children. Watching too many television reports can overwhelm both children and adults.

At our house we have recorded the local or national news programs we wish to watch and, wait until the kids are in bed.

2. Listen to your children carefully.  Before responding to their questions, ask them questions to develop an understanding of what they know about the situation. Children can experience stress when they do not understand dangerous experiences. Talking with them can help ease their concerns.

Fortunately, my 2 and 4 year old children have no idea about the tragic events of Friday.

3. Give children reassurance.  Assure your children that adults are doing everything they can to protect and help children who have been affected by the tragedy. Discuss emergency situations and how there are procedures in place to keep them safe.

4. Watch for significant changes in behavior.  Be alert to any significant changes in your children’s sleeping patterns, eating habits, and concentration levels. Watch for wide emotional swings or frequent physical complaints. In the short term these behavior changes are normal, but if they continue you should seek professional help and counseling for the child.

5. Understand children’s unique needs. Everyone experiences disasters differently.  As children develop, their intellectual, physical and emotional abilities change. Younger children will rely on their parents to interpret events; older children and adolescents will get information from various sources, including friends, news and social media. Remember, children of any age can be affected by a disaster. Give them love, understanding and support as they cope.

6. Give your children extra time and attention. Children need close, personal attention to know they are safe. Talk, play and, most importantly, listen to them.

7. Be a model for your children. Your response, helps your children learn how to deal with these events. Sharing your feelings about the event, should depend on the age and maturity of the child. While you may disclose more to older or more mature children, its important to remain calm.

8. Watch your own behavior. Demonstrate sensitivity and concern for those impacted by the crisis. This is a teaching opportunity, show your children we all need to help each other.

 9. Help your children return to a normal routine. Most children benefit from routine activities like meal times, bed time, and playing with others.  Make sure your children’s school is returning to normal patterns and not spending too much time discussing the event.

10. Encourage your children to do volunteer work. Helping others can give children a sense of control and security.

These tips are also available online at Save the Children, they can also be downloaded in Spanish.

Save the Children is the leading, independent organization that creates lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world. You can find Save the Children on Twitter and Facebook.

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