Making Sense of Scary News
The news coming out of Orlando has been difficult for many of us to process this week, especially those of us in the queer community. I have found myself going in and out of anger, fear, sadness, and hope. I also have been thinking about each of my students this week and how they might be feeling about what happened.
This led me to put together a list of things that we, as adults, can do to help children work through their feelings around tragedy. I feel it is of utmost importance that children are heard, that their questions are taken seriously, and that their emotions, whatever they may be, are held in a loving space.
1. Let them know you are there to talk, if they want.
Some children need to hear from you that you are willing to listen before they will open up. Spend most of your time listening and answering questions. Don’t go into trying to fix the situation or find solutions. The most important thing is having their feelings heard.
2. Ask them to draw or paint their feelings.
This works well for younger children, but can also be healing for older children. Invite them to draw what they are feeling, even if it is abstract shapes or blobs and lines of color. This helps them process their feelings on a deeper level and can shift them if they feel stuck.
3. Breathe together.
Sometimes, the best thing to do is to take some deep, calming breaths in the presence of someone who feels safe and is loving.
4. Invite your child to take action.
If it would feel good to them, they can write a letter, draw a picture, donate money, or visit a memorial. Taking concrete action can help children feel empowered in the face of a tragedy. When September 11 happened, I organized students at the Sylvan Learning Center where I was teaching to write letters to children at a Sylvan near the twin towers. Their letters were heartfelt and beautiful, and a few weeks later we got letters back from the teachers and children thanking us and letting us know how much our support had meant to them.
5. Ask them what they need.
This may change as the days go on. Perhaps at first they will want to talk, cry, or ask questions. Maybe they need extra hugs. They may even want to take a walk in nature. Find out what they think would help.
6. Rewrite the ending.
I use this technique in various settings with my students when they face something difficult. Helping them imagine there can be a different ending can help transform fear, anger, and grief. It is best to do this after they have had some time to sit with and share their feelings. Ask them to write or tell you a story in which a different outcome happened. In the case of Orlando, perhaps civilians or police officers stopped the gunman before he got into the club. Allow them to make it imaginative: maybe a superhero showed up just in time, or there were guardians/spirits/angels protecting the people in the club so they wouldn’t get hurt. This allows them to focus on hope and love and know that things can be different.
Remember to allow your child to take as much time as he or she needs to process tragedies, whether personal or global. Feelings and questions may arise weeks after an incident. I know for me, the Orlando shooting will be with me for a very long time.