The Hebrew Academy - A Yeshiva Day School serving Toddler through Eighth Grade

Wednesday, 19 December 2012 08:00

Helping Our Children Deal With Tragedy

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Dear Parents,

I’m sure you share our horror and grief over the wanton shooting of school children and personnel in the Sandy Hook Elementary school this past Friday. While mourning in tandem with the Newtown community, we are also left with the daunting task of explaining such misfortune and danger to our children in a fashion that informs but does not terrorize. 

With relief and confidence, we can assure you that the children here at The Hebrew Academy appear fully focused and composed conducting themselves as they would on any other day. Though no untoward reactions are evident, it is still incumbent upon us to make sure that our children are fully protected not only physically but psychologically and emotionally as well.

Dr. Norman Blumenthal, Director of Bereavement and Crisis Intervention for Chai Lifeline, has formulated the following recommendations for discussing and processing these calamitous events with your children:

  • In today’s world of internet and rapid dissemination of information, you are probably far from the first person to inform your children of these frightening events. Nor can you categorically filter or oversee what they view or read.
  • Be available to clarify and discuss what your child has found out and be particularly alerted to unfounded rumors or exaggerations.
  • Do not try to conceal or downplay the reality of these events.
  • For children 6 and older, it is advisable to impart the rarity of such calamity especially if the child is evidencing undue fear or worry.
  • For pre-school age children, just assure them of their safety. The concept of “rare” is not meaningful to them.
  • Limit and contain the amount of coverage that is viewed by your children and particularly pictures or videos that highlight the atrocity and carnage. Research on post catastrophe trauma is incontrovertible that excessive exposure to such horror increases anxiety and distress.
  • School aged children may be particularly invested in the facts and details. To such inquiries you should respond accurately and succinctly.
  • Children who are scared respond as much to your voice tone and body language as they do to your words. Make sure you are composed and managing your own fears and vulnerability before talking to your child.
  • Adolescents may be more prone to imagine themselves the victims or bereaved families and respond with heightened grief and emotional outpouring.  When it is your sense that such hysteria has taken on a life of its own, it is perfectly suitable to contain and distract.
  • Adolescents may also aggressively challenge the existence of such injustice and evil with religious observance and belief. Here too, discuss such matters until it appears to be rooted more in rebellion and oppositionalism than interest or theological struggles.
  • If a child or one of his or her family members has a history of having been victims of violent assault or terrorist attack, keep a closer watch on his or her reaction to such events.
  • Children with predispositions to depression or anxiety may also be more susceptible to untoward responses or fear.
  • If your child is frightened and inconsolable, it may help to give them an activity. This can include but not limited to letters to bereaved families, prayer or devotional study, art work or commemorative dedications or actions.
  • Trauma reactions can be delayed or come in waves. It would not be anything out of the ordinary if a child responds adversely weeks from now or alternates between periods of carefree inattention and worry.
  • Please do not fault any child who may be more stoic or cavalier. We all differ in emotional vulnerability and expression and a natural or spontaneous composure or resilience is distinctly possible.
  • Look for the teachable moments and silver linings that coexist with the horror and anguish that typically dominate such events. The heroism of the staff, the universal outpouring of support and grief are themes that are important for our children to hear and can help ameliorate the terror and vicarious distress.

We hope this information is of assistance to you. Please remember that each child is unique and will process these events in a manner that fits with their particular temperament, history and coping style.


Rabbi Avremel Kotlarsky


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