When tragedy happens, it helps to allow ourselves to feel our emotions, without judgment. We must allow ourselves to grieve and process the unthinkable. We have to work toward accepting that we may not be able to make sense of it. But we can still move forward and feel safe again.
Remember, our kids are listening. They are looking at adults around them to help them comprehend and make sense of a scary event. So we want to be present and help them through, even when they don't have the words or may have shut down. Instead of asking them if they are ok, to which they may quickly answer "yes" to, we want to let them know that it is ok if they are not ok. You can start the conversation in an open-ended way, maybe talking about your own feelings. This will allow kids to open up as well.
Encourage them to ask questions and be gentle and curious in understanding their perceptions about what happened. We have to be able to hear their pain and worries. Unfortunately, these are earned. It is ok to let our kids know that what happened was serious. We don’t want to sugarcoat, as this will feel more confusing. What happened was scary. Our kids -- and us all -- have earned the right to feel scared. But the adults can be there to help kids process, and create a sense of meaning that may have been shattered as a result of the scary event. To do so, we have to start by listening and leaning into feelings that are painful and confusing. The answers will come. The world will make sense again, and our kids will begin to regain a feeling of safety.
As Fred Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world.”
So look for the helpers. And lean into the good. There is truly more good in our world than bad. We just have to notice it, and remind ourselves of it. Take little steps that feel healthy. Turn off the news, and do something that feels nurturing and grounding. Make bread, play a board game, or feel the earth under your fingernails as you plant something in your little corner of the world. And watch it grow.
If you need to speak with someone, our therapists are here to meet you where you are. If you are struggling right now, reach out for help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.