As parents or carers, there is a strong temptation to shield our children when bad news breaks.
However, on occasions, this is unavoidable and you have to have a tough conversation with them.
Children and young people sometimes witness or are involved in things that they find scary or stressful, such as accidents, violence or as we saw recently in Manchester, a terrorist attack.
As children try and understand and make sense of what has happened, the following reactions are common:
• Memories or pictures of the event unexpectedly popping into the mind;
• Play that is linked to or drawing about the event time and again;
• Not being able to concentrate;
• Getting angry or upset more easily;
• Becoming more clingy with parents or carers.
The child or young person may feel angry, sad, guilty, confused or a combination of these things.
Children and young people worry less if you can help them to see that their reactions are normal and understandable.
They will need reassurances that they are safe, given in an age appropriate way.
For pre-school children use concrete and realistic language.
Do not talk about people ‘going to sleep’ or that ‘we have lost that person.’
This may mean children become anxious about going to sleep and they may wonder where that person has been lost.
Children usually understand the concept of death around the age of five or six. Books from the library can really help.
Some young children may want to use dolls or toys or draw pictures to help them understand what has happened.
Be honest, but also be sensitive.
With older children it may be appropriate to discuss images, which can be much more powerful.
Talk about bad actions or behaviour, rather than people.
Again, we want to avoid children worrying ‘bad’ people are coming to get them. Try and stick to normal routines and activities as much as possible, but be flexible enough to respond to what your child needs.
If it is too difficult for you to speak with your child, is there is another trusted adult your child would feel comfortable with? Go at their pace.