Often, educators, parents and caregivers struggle with what they should say or share with young children when trauma or tragedy transpires. This can be especially difficult considering the world view that the child is likely to have, based on their own previous life experiences. This may be the first time that the child is finding that their interpretation of the world, and the world itself, are two very different things. Here are some suggestions of tools and techniques for helping children cope.
TALKING WITH YOUNG CHILDREN ABOUT TRAUMA AND TRAGEDY
The best place to start is by simply asking the child what they have heard. Widespread presence of media coverage can be overwhelming for children at best, and exposure should be limited to lessen any potential anxiety.
Preschool through early elementary aged children may be unaware of a tragedy, or they may have several questions and concerns. Children may wonder why terrible things happen. While tragedies are hard to understand, children can be reminded that God is always with them, that there are always helpers, and that they are can be helpers, too.
“YOU ARE SAFE. GOD IS WITH YOU.”
When tragedy strikes, young children may worry that a similar event may occur to them or someone they love. Help affirm children’s sense of safety through reassurance and support.
Tell children that their loved ones are doing everything that they can to keep them safe. Young children especially may find a reminder of God’s love, and that he is always with us, to be comforting. Remind children that they can always talk and listen to God in prayer, too.
GOD BLESS THE HELPERS
God has blessed our community with men and women who protect others from harm and who provide help in challenging times. Ask young children, “Who are our helpers?” Responses may include that of police, fire, military, other first responder personnel, as well as doctors, nurses, and ministers. Children may also name family members or friends who provide them with help when they need it. Affirm all children’s responses and make suggestions to show how many helpers there are.
Explain to the children that Church is a helper. Ministries within the Church reach out to people in need. Tell children the ways the Church, and your Catholic school or parish, provides help to people during times of tragedy and challenge. There may even be a way for a group of children or your family to support these ministries.
Ask children when and where they see helpers in their community, school, and parish. They will realize that helpers are all around them, and that there are so very many caring people in the world. We can thank God for these helpers, and ask God to bless them in their important work and ministries.
THE CALL TO CARE
Pope Francis has said “God is peace: let us ask him to help us to be peacemakers each day, in our life, in our families, in our cities and nations, in the whole world.” (“Urbi et Orbi” speech, December 25, 2013)
Help children to understand not only that their communities are blessed with helpers, but that they, themselves, can be helpers. In times of trauma and tragedy, children may wonder, “How can I help?” Guide them to let their love and respect for others shine in all that they do. Children can perform small acts of caring, like speaking kind words and providing comfort to others. Small acts of caring work together to make the world a kinder and safer place and are a reminder of the good that there is in the world.
“LET PEACE BEGIN WITH ME”
Young children may feel empowered when they realize they can be peacemakers. Teach children to make compromises. Working with them to reach compromise through conflict will help them to grow socially and emotionally through this stage of life. Teach children to forgive others. Help them to articulately communicate their feelings. Model ways to be a peacemaker in your home or classroom.
Children will be more inclined and prepared to take on the role of peacemaker when they see the example of those they love and respect.
HELPING PRAYER POEM ACTIVITY
Download and share a printable Helping Prayer Poem Activity to help young children recognize what community helpers exemplify and do, and ways that they can be helpers to others.
Before you begin the prayer poem, ask the children to name helpers in their neighborhood, school, and parish communities. Then, share the poem aloud or as an echo, reading a line and inviting children to repeat after you. Invite children to complete the poem with words on the line provided and/or a picture. If desired, mount completed student activity sheets on colored construction paper and display them for your community to enjoy.