Helping Children and Youth Cope with Fear and Grief

To help children cope with fear and grief, assure them that they are safe and well cared for. Photo: iStock
To help children cope with fear and grief, assure them that they are safe and well cared for. Photo: iStock

Resources are available to assist us as we attempt to help young people with questions about recent tragedies in Newtown, Connecticut and the Clackamas Town Center. A quick review of some of these resources reveal some common themes:

Prevent children under the age of eight from watching extended media coverage of the events. The media tends to focus on the most frightening and sensational aspects of the event. Furthermore, young children may have difficulty distinguishing between disasters that are close to home compared to those that are elsewhere in the world.

Assure children that they are safe and well cared for. Children need to know that there are good, trustworthy people in charge who are helping those that that have been injured by the event. They also should know that people close to home are actively taking steps to prevent bad things from happening in their community.  

Keep routines the same. Children are reassured when they see predictability and stability in their lives.

Be available to discuss the situation with young people who have questions or concerns. Encourage them to verbalize their feelings and emotions, letting them know that it is OK to be angry or upset. Avoid pretending that the event did not occur or diminish its significance. Remember, children are very resilient and can cope with much more than we often give them credit for. However, it is important your responses are tailored to be developmentally appropriate. 

Watch for children who may experience difficulty dealing with the event. Particularly vulnerable are children who have experienced significant personal loss or those who suffer from depression or mental illness. In extreme cases, seek assistance from a mental health professional.

Additional resources

Coping with Newtown Elementary School Tragedy
Resources for parents, schools, individuals and responders (SAMHSA)

Thanks to OSU Family and Community Health (FCH) for providing this information. For more resources for families see the FCH website.