By Dr. Norman N Blumenthal
Zachter Family Director of Trauma and Crisis Intervention
Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services
By now, many of you have heard of the tragic circumstances that have unfolded in Meron, Israel. We all join together in grieving over the loss of life and with heartfelt prayers for those who have been injured.
While in no way diminishing our worry and concern, it is essential that we and our children process the information in a fashion that promotes love and concern without undue trauma and destabilization. The following are some general guidelines offered with a full awareness that responses to tragedy are as varied and unique as we are as individuals.
- • During airplane safety instructions, we hear that you should take oxygen for yourself before your children, so you’re better able to help them. So, too, in this tragedy. Parents and teachers should address their own worries and concerns before trying to help their children
- • Traumatic events especially close to home or community have to varying degrees a “secondary” impact on all of us.
- </span• >Many well-adjusted adults and children will feel tense and upset,especially with photos so readily available today through online media.
- • This is very normal and speaks to our connection with others.
- • Oftentimes, the most effective antidote to derailingyour fear is to discuss your thoughts and feelings with others.
- • Merely speaking about our emotions and fears makes them more manageable and contained.
- • Those who have loved ones in Israel or a history of past trauma are likely to feel or experience such troubling thoughts and associations more deeply,
- • Activities including prayer and charity can diminish one’s self of helplessness during periods of mishap and tragedy.
- • It is probably ill advised right now to point accusatory fingers or look for culprits.
- • Both adults and children with pre-existing anxiety or comparable conditions, are likely to experience more intense responses. So too may intellectually gifted children or those with much interest and curiosity about world events.
- • In contrast, no one should feel critical of themselves or others if their reactions are more unemotional or subdued. Just as we differ in so many ways, some people are by nature more rational or stoic
Pre-School Aged Children
- • At this age in particular, they should be insulated from the often graphic depictions available via the internet.
- • Children under the age of 6 will have an awareness of tragedy but a more limited understanding of its scope.
- • Children these ages often do not understand death, especially its permanence and finality.
- • Their awareness of worry and distress in the adults around them may evoke fear about their own safety and security
- • These children may also express their worry through misconduct, sleeplessness, andphysical complaints.
- • Assure them that such events are not occurring in their immediate surroundings and will not directly affect them or their family.
- • Describing such occurrences as “rare” is often of limited utility for children whose world is so small and circumscribed.
- • Be as careful about your tone of voice and body language as your words. Children these ages are often more responsive to non-verbal communication than ideas.
- • Firm and contained assurances of their personal safety and that of their immediate family should be enough.
School aged Children
- • School aged children have a more realistic understanding of death, the idea of occurrences that are “rare” and the geographical distance of the events under consideration.
- • They can also understand the enormity of suffering and feel for the bereaved, injured and their families. This can be a teachable moment to nurture sympathy and care for others.
- • It is fairly typical for school-aged children to be interested in small and even gruesome details of these events,This is not a sign of a callous disregard.
- • They are also more prone to look for culprits or foes and may need to understand that this was not an attack or action with evil intent.
- • Children in general, but in this age in particular, sometime respond to sad or shocking news with distraction and disregard. They may return to the adults even days later with more pointed expressions of concern and worry.
- • Elementary school-aged children who are by nature more active and impulsive may respond to such news with unrealistic expressions of bravado or jocularity. Without being critical for what is their nature, patiently convey to them the seriousness that is more appropriate for such a tragic event.
- • Adolescents certainly comprehend the enormity of this tragedy.
- • Developing a more mature capacity to relate and empathize, they might even be overly dramatic in their new and sophisticated capacity to internalize the pain and suffering of others. This is more likely to occur if they are actively communicating and commiserating with friends through social media.
- • It is not uncommon that children these ages need to be reminded how to balance their concern for others in a more temperate fashion
- • Adolescents would be most likely to struggle with the appearance of injustice of such suffering. They might pose the unanswerable question of “why bad things happen to good people.” This may emerge all the more so since the victims were participating in a religious and spiritual celebration.
- • If such questions are genuinely motivated and worrisome, it is perfectly acceptable to commiserate, discuss and allow them to develop a tolerance for questions and events that are beyond human comprehension.
- • Such heart wrenching news is also an opportunity to remind our children that it is not always helpful to spend too much time viewing the graphic and relentless photos and information on the internet and social media.
As previously indicated it is impossible to predict everyone’s unique response to tragedy but we hope that these guidelines allow for more targeted and helpful coping. If further assistance is needed, please feel free to contact Ohel at 800 603-6435 or Dr. Blumenthal at firstname.lastname@example.org.