Therapist, minister have advice for dealing with grief

How do you talk to your kids about Friday’s tragedy in Newtown?

Liz Jorgensen of Redding, a psychotherapist, said it is important that parents understand the need to talk to their kids. She reminded parents that older kids are more quiet.

The Rev. Jack Davidson, associate minister of Christ Church, Congregational also offered advice on how to cope.

Ms. Jorgensen said because of Monday’s lockdown [of short duration] in Redding’s lower schools and Joel Barlow High School in response to an incident in Ridgefield that was later determined overblown, some kids were re-traumatized.

With younger children, she said, parents need to be concrete, acknowledging “a terrible thing happened in Newtown,” but should tell their children it won’t happen to them. Children, whether in high school or kindergarten, should be told the lockdown was done “out of extreme caution. It was a drill, and everyone is safe.”

Both children and adults should be proactive, such as attending a vigil or house of worship or doing something for charity, she said. Young children and adults are comforted by doing something like this, she explained.

She cautioned parents of younger children that they may regress by wetting their pants, or not wanting to go to school.

“You don’t want children to avoid school, but parents could take their kids to school and pick them up, or let them sleep with them. It acknowledges how frightening it is,” Ms. Jorgensen said.

She advised limiting media exposure for children and adults. “Even for older kids, it can be re-traumatizing to see some sights over and over again. It is too much for most of us, especially kids.”

Children’s questions should be answered, said Ms. Jorgensen. “It’s OK to give simple answers of what happened, or say you don’t know, if you don’t. … Parents don’t have to not show they’re upset, but understand that the child’s feelings come first.”

She also said it is OK for kids to be upset. “Don’t make pain worse by being upset with them,” Ms. Jorgensen said.

Her assessment is that our society is “horrible at suffering and pain; we want to fix it immediately, but it’s part of life.”

Ms. Jorgensen recommended not telling children things like God needed more angels. “Children need the truth,” she said, adding that using platitudes and clichés doesn’t comfort children.

Since some children won’t talk about their feelings while others are very verbal, she said, parents have to be sensitive to their child’s temperament. Some children are comforted in different ways, and the Newtown tragedy might bring up a prior loss for a child, she said, such as the death of a grandparent.

Some children may be clingy or whiny, Ms. Jorgensen said. She advised parent to have tolerance and patience and to admit they don’t have all the answers. For older children, she said, they can be told that everyone in the world is looking for solutions.

The Rev. Jack Davidson said people should remember that they and their kids are safe, that it’s OK to feel whatever emotion comes up, and it’s OK to keep living your life.

“It’s also very important to focus on the stories of love and hope. It’s easy to be drawn to the story of one man causing so much pain. But we need to remember that this one incident is surrounded by innumerable acts of courage and an outpouring of love greater than any suffering. For example, even with 400 families coming for grief counseling in Newtown, they still have more therapists than they need,” he said.

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