Counselor: Talk to your children

Published 12:17 pm Monday, December 17, 2012

The Star-News asked local children’s counselor Lisa Wiggins Patterson for her thoughts on helping children deal with the tragedy of Newton, Conn. Here’s what she had to say.

What do parents tell their children? What can they do to help their children?

First and foremost, get yourself together. Do what you need to do to process the event the best you can in order to be able to speak calmly and reassuring to your children. If you are showing anxiety and fear, it will transfer to your child. If they see you calm, and reassuring, this will transfer to them as well.

Second, turn off the TV. Yes, it happened and there is no way that you are going to shield them from the days which will follow and the information which will be circulating. But what you will be doing is limiting and not allowing the emotions and actions of reporters, families of the victims, and others to continue to frightening your child. Another reason to turn the TV off is that young children can confuse events. If they see the events over and over they may begin to think of them as separate events. Meaning that to them, it may be still happening, or happening again somewhere else.

Talk to your child. You know your child better than anyone. Only give them the information that they can understand, and how they can understand it. If you are unsure, ask them if they have heard about the event, and what they have heard. Go from there. Be sure they understand that this is not something that happens and that it is not something that would happen to them. Do not go overboard with any information. Acknowledge that bad things sometimes happen but it is was very unusual and it is not going to happen to them. They are looking for reassurance from you and the other adults in their life so give it to them.

Every school should have a safety plan in effect and they practice them. Remind them why it is very important for them to know their safety plan and what to do If it is ever needed. This is a good time to go over these plans. If you don’t know what they are you can find out. Use it as a time to know more about your child’s school, and help them know you and the school do everything you can to keep them safe and teach them safety.

If your school, church, or community does something to memorialize or help the survivors and families, and your child wants to be part of that, then encourage it. It will help with closure.

Seek help if needed. Most children can handle bad news without a major reaction. But if they have nightmares for more than a day or two, or tantrums, or continue to double-check the doors each night, they may need professional help in getting past their fears.


Lisa Patterson is a licensed counselor in Alabama & Florida, Nationally Certified Counselor and a Registered Play Therapist. She may be contacted at 334.222.7094.