The explosion at a petrol station in Creeslough late last week is a rare tragedy. That so many were injured and died is very difficult to accept. Many children will be just as shocked to hear about this as you or I might have been. Its apparent randomness can make it more meaningful and distressing to the children who have become aware of it.
It has been a little over a month since I wrote about how the killings of children in Tallaght may have affected other children who had read or heard about this tragedy. Everything I have written in this article will be valid in helping your own children come to terms with what happened in Creeslough.
The essence of what I have written is that the first step in supporting a child who is devastated by a tragedy that is making the news is to find out what they know about the incident. It helps clear up any aspects they may have misread or misinformation they may have heard.
Then you need to find out what the meaning of the incident is for your child so you can try to validate their feelings about what happened as they perceive it. Helping them express their feelings about what they think happened is key to helping children process those feelings. Usually this requires the adult to empathize and perhaps make educated guesses about how the child is feeling.
Once we understand how they are feeling, we can help them regulate the intensity of those feelings. This requirement may be as simple as a hug to let them know they are safe and not in danger, or it may be that you need to reassure them that a similar tragedy is likely to befall them.
Perhaps what distinguishes the Creeslough blast from the Tallaght murders is the fact that most of the children entered a service station shop, while not every child felt they were being killed in their own home. Consequently, coverage of the Creeslough tragedy could result in more children feeling that they are now more vulnerable to something similarly horrific happening to them or their families.
For example, does it make the fact that other children and teenagers died seem more relevant? Or does the “normality” of the situation moments before the explosion, with people going about their business in a gas station shop, mean that your child is now more afraid of everyday situations?
Some research has shown that “local” news has a greater impact on children’s feelings of vulnerability than news that appears to have come from distant or distant locations. News reports of an explosion in Ireland are more likely to be perceived as ‘dangerous’ than, for example, reports of explosions in war-torn countries like Ukraine.
The seemingly random nature of the explosion also makes it difficult to reassure children that something of this scale and horror will not happen to them. In the past week, few children have been afraid of being involved in an explosion. This week, many more children could be fearing that as a possibility, and we cannot give our children cast-iron guarantees that something similar might not happen to them or to us.
Again, research has shown us that pervasive and extensive media coverage of a story or incident can significantly affect our children’s (and our own) perceptions of the likelihood of such an event occurring. This can mean that children feel unnecessarily threatened, unsafe or afraid because they overestimate the chances of being hit by a horrific explosion.
So, after talking to our kids about their feelings and maybe figuring out that they feel quite vulnerable when something similar happens to them, we need to find the words that can help them feel reassured about the likelihood that so something terrible happened again, there is very low.
However, you may find that they cannot hear your assurances. No matter how much you talk about the low probability of such a tragedy repeating itself, your child may still remain trapped in their fear. You may need to spend a little more time focusing on their feelings and giving them more opportunities to talk about their fears before attempting to allay those fears. Remaining calm and confident with your child will also give them peace of mind, as many children, especially young children, model themselves on the ways of their parents.
While most of your thoughts, prayers, and feelings go out to the families of those who were killed or injured over the weekend, also think of your own children as they may need your steady, guiding hand to help make sense of them terrible tragedy.
https://www.independent.ie/life/family/parenting/dr-david-coleman-after-creeslough-heres-how-to-help-children-make-sense-of-awful-tragedies-42059236.html dr David Coleman: After Creeslough, here’s how you can help children understand terrible tragedies