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One year later... how to help your children

June 10, 2017

As caregivers, we do our best to help and protect our children. When a tragedy like the pulse shooting happens, it is difficult for us as adults to make sense of it, much less to help our children do so. Usually, anniversaries of a tragedy bring back emotions and thoughts that may have already settled. Therefore, it is a good idea to have some tips handy in case you notice the following characteristics in your children that were not there before:

  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Prolonged fear of being alone
  • Not wanting to close doors
  • Problems sleeping
  • Wetting the bed
  • Change in appetite
  • Withdrawal
  • Excessive daydreaming
  • Anger outbursts and/or aggressiveness
  • Clumsiness
  • Making inappropriate comments about death

It is important to remember that children often ‘act out’ how they feel instead of talking about it. Changes are often signals children emit asking us to pay closer attention and figure out what is behind the changes. If these signals persist, please contact the Orlando United Assistance Center at 407.500.HOPE (4673) to obtain information about counseling for anyone, including children, that have been impacted by the Pulse tragedy.

Here are some things you can do to help your children during this time:

Mom Comforting DaughterAnswer their questions. 

A year later, children may still have questions related to what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. Use simple terms and only answer the question(s) asked. Avoid giving too much information, especially about issues they might not be old enough or mature enough to understand. It is often best to ask them about what they know or what they think the answer is before providing them with your answers. 

Give them words. 

To help your children express what they are feeling, I recommend using the characters from the Pixar movie “Inside Out,” or emojis to show how they feel. 

Listen. 

We don’t have to know all of the answers or even know exactly what to tell our children. One of the most helpful things to do is to listen to our children without trying to fix things for them. As caregivers, we may believe we have to do something, but in reality, children, like adults, often times just need to express their feelings and for us to be compassionate companions. 

Hold them. 

If they cry, resist the temptation to say “everything is going to be ok” or “don’t cry because it makes me feel sad to see you like this.” Instead, hold them gently and let them cry for as long and as hard as they need to. You may have to do this a few times. 

Write it out. 

If they’re old enough to write, have them write out their feelings. If they are not old enough, have them draw their feelings. Once they have something to share, you can then ask them whether they want to keep it, burn it, shred it, share it with others, etc. They might need a little guidance but try to honor their desires. 

Include them in ceremonies. Candlelight Vigil

Children already know what happened and they may want to be part of a service ceremony or something the family is planning to do in remembrance. If possible, include them in the process. You can have them play a small role such as lighting a candle, share a favorite memory, giving out food, etc. Author Alan Wolfelt says it best, “if they are old enough to love, they are old enough to mourn.” 

Create a memento.

If appropriate, help the children develop or select an item that could remind them of a special person or the event. Anything that could bring a sense of safety or a sense of closeness. It could be something like a custom bracelet, necklace, a matching shirt, a keychain, or something to put inside a stuffed animal.

 
Anniversaries of tragedies can be seen as opportunities to revisit old wounds and ensure they healed properly.

 

Anniversaries of tragedies can be seen as opportunities to revisit old wounds and ensure they healed properly. Remember that everyone grieves differently and at different rates. As caregivers, we should not assume our children are ok because they don’t talk about something or there was not any direct impact on you and the family. Children often internalize outside events so it is our job to ensure they are truly ok.

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