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Sunday, February 19, 2017

How should I talk to kids about tragedy?

Posted By: Advancing Care

When tragedy strikes, adults need to get out in front of the information flow to and around children, says Abraham Bartell, MD, MBA, Director of Pediatric Psychiatry at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth). Be open, truthful, avoid euphemisms, find out what they know first and follow their lead. “We live in a ‘don’t cry society,’ but kids need to know that expressing feelings through crying is normal,” says Dr. Bartell. “If you’re not comfortable saying the word cancer, use leukemia or Hodgkin’s disease, but don’t say ‘boo-boo,’ because the next time the child falls and gets a ‘boo-boo,’ they’re going to think: All my hair is going to fall out, like Grandma’s did. There’s no need to delve too deeply, and it’s okay not to have all the answers. You can say, ‘That’s a good question; I’ll get you that info’ or ‘Let’s look it up or ask someone.’” Timing is also very important. “It’s best not to discuss at the end of the day, when everyone’s tired and reserves are low,” advises Dr. Bartell. Offering truthful reassurance that life is still normal and that there will be a future, that there is safety, is key. Keep this “Four Fs” checklist in mind:
1. Don’t Force discussions.
2. Don’t Forbid talking or expression of feelings.
3. Follow their lead.
4. Control the Flow of information.
Following a tragedy, children may have nightmares, trouble sleeping or appetite changes. All of these are normal, says Dr. Bartell, adding, “Regressive behavior is a mosaic. We’re fluid. We cope and then we bounce or slide back. If behaviors persist or cluster, or if there’s a sustained trend, it may be time to seek help from a trusted pediatrician, school psychologist or social worker.”