The news of the stabbing of an 18-year-old girl and her 8-year-old twin brother and sister at their home in Tallaght is tragic and appalling. We hear about killings far too regularly, and yet the killing of children will always attract attention. If you’re a parent, you most likely had an immediate, personal, and gut reaction to the news.
Our first thoughts were undoubtedly with the family involved and the trauma they are going through. After that your thoughts may have turned to your own children and how they might react to this news if they are old enough to have heard about it.
If you have school-age children, chances are they’ve heard about the deaths, either directly from the TV and radio news, from social media, or from their peers. It’s helpful to examine how this tragic news affects them.
We can almost assume that they reacted emotionally to what happened. This emotional reaction may have been fleeting and quickly processed, or it may be ongoing and quite distressing. There is no “right” reaction for a child, regardless of age or circumstances. There is no particular response to the tragedy that we “should” expect.
Based on our own emotional responses to what happened, we can surmise that they, too, might be shocked, sad, scared, or horrified. They may draw parallels to their own lives, which can amplify their feelings, or they may perceive the events as distant and detached from their experiences, which could lessen the emotional impact.
Your goal as a parent or supportive adult is to help your child understand and understand their feelings. The first step is to determine what they know about what happened.
This is important as they may have misinformation, exaggerated information or only partial information that may be confusing or additional worrying to them. They may not have any information either, but they may have found out from you or their friends that something bad happened.
I would suggest starting the conversation with something like, “You may have heard that something bad happened in Tallaght over the weekend. I just want to see what you know about it?”. This type of open-ended question invites them to share their knowledge and also clearly shows that you are willing to talk about this potentially sad or scary event.
From there, your next steps are active listening, clarifying, and empathy. Active listening means showing your child that you are listening, for example by nodding, smiling, giving back what you hear, maybe summarizing what they said. Make it clear that you understand them correctly, including checking that you fully understand all the feelings they describe or show. Empathy is your ability to help them name and express their feelings. For example, if it’s relevant, say something like, “It sounds like you’re afraid someone might come into our home and attack our family as well.”
Parents are often reluctant to discuss tragedy with their children, fearing that the discussion itself could be upsetting and “catch” a huge emotional response. Of course, the discussion might actually make it easier for them to express their feelings, and they might be visibly upset, but it’s more likely that those feelings were already there and you just helped them identify and express the feelings. The important thing is that you do this in a very safe environment where you can also help them regulate the feeling.
While you cannot expect to deny your own emotional response, it will help your children if you can suppress your own feelings to the point where you can project certainty or confidence that the risk of harm to you or your family is diminishing is low. You can assure them of their relative safety in your home.
Appearing confident isn’t about denying your child’s experiences or feelings. You want them to feel what they feel. But you also want to show them that you’re emotionally strong enough to regulate your own emotions and control their emotions enough that they don’t feel left alone. Sometimes you don’t need to say anything reassuring, your simple hug or cuddle is enough to let them know they are safe and will continue to be fine.
Tragedy will always surround us, and when it makes headlines, our children can be exposed to it. While we may be able to protect our very young children from this news, we must give our older children and teens the forum to understand, question and have peace of mind about their own safety and the safety of those close to them.
https://www.independent.ie/life/family/parenting/dr-david-coleman-there-is-no-right-reaction-no-matter-their-age-or-circumstance-how-to-talk-to-your-children-about-tragedy-41967188.html dr David Coleman: There’s No “Right” Response, Regardless of Age or Circumstance – How to Talk to Your Children About Tragedy