how to talk about tragedy

We here at GirlTalk Therapy are deeply saddened at the loss of so many young lives this past week in Newtown, and our hearts go out to those who have lost a loved one and those who are struggling to make sense of the senseless. You may find that your adolescent has questions that are hard to answer, or perhaps she seems more anxious going to school. Some teens may have nightmares, or seem a bit more moody, or just want a little extra TLC. Whether or not your teen comes to you to talk about this event, it's important to address it in a way that provides reassurance of safety, compassion for the range of emotions your child may experience, and a willingness to talk about some really difficult things. Here are some ways you can help your child process the events of the past week and move toward healing:

  • Be on the lookout for some signs of distress, like being extra tired in the morning, a change in appetite, difficulty concentrating, complaints of stomach upset or a reluctance to go to school. 
  • Limit media exposure. Television news is full of sensationalist and graphic accounts of the shooting, and this type of media can escalate anxiety in teens and adults alike.
  • Check in with your tween about what they're feeling and what they've heard. Social media makes the exchange of information rapid & can distort truths. It's important to keep a dialogue going with your teen as we learn more about what happened. Then stick to the basic facts.
  • Reassure your tween of her safety. It's normal to feel vulnerable after a traumatic event. Walk her through the protections in place at her school, and come up with a game plan together of what she can do if she feels scared or unsafe.
  • Keep to your regular routine. Parents have been deeply shaken by this event, and the urge to keep your child home and limit activities is high. Try to keep her to her regular routine and encourage her to stay engaged in school and extracurriculars.
  • Be willing to share your own feelings and uncertainty, within reason. Adolescents benefit from parents modeling how to manage a range of emotions, with the key word being "manage." If you're feeling overwhelmed and distraught, take time to care for yourself before attempting these difficult conversations with your teen. And remember that you don't have to have all the answers. What teens need is a safe space to feel understood, not a parent who can "fix" everything. 
  • If you feel that your adolescent continues to experience distress, consider reaching out to a mental health professional, particularly if your teen or family has experienced any form of trauma. 

While we begin to heal, let us all remember to be kind and compassionate with each other and with the young people in our lives. Together we can become stronger.