33 Large scale tradegy as a parent

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Parenting Article No. 33
RESPONDING TO LARGE-SCALE
TRAGEDY AS A PARENT
At this time in the new millennium, many parents
express the need to somehow equip themselves and their
children with a way of making sense of both man-made
and natural catastrophes.
The tragedies of September 11th and Bali may cause us
to question our belief in the general safety and security
of our sunburned land of plenty. What can we tell our
kids about these events? As we ourselves struggle to
adapt to this changed landscape, what are our kids
thinking and feeling?
It is a mistake to think children are not aware of what is
happening. Equally it is a mistake not to discuss how
you feel and what you think about it. Children’s faith in
their parents as strong protectors needs to be tempered
with the knowledge that parents have limitations in this
regard. That is, there will be things that we can do little
about, events we feel and are powerless to influence.
It is tempting to surrender to this belief that we can do
nothing at all or that any response we might make will
be futile. However, our kids may look to us for a way
through so we must firstly determine our true feelings
and be clear about what we believe. To do this requires
some serious self-nurturing and periods of research and
contemplation.
Some families discover that they want to make a public
statement of solidarity and support for those who have
been directly affected by these tragic events. Avenues
for this expression include making contributions to
appeals for money, placing flowers on the Town Hall
steps, attending church services to join with others in
prayer, writing letters to the newspapers and politicians,
as well as participating in other community- and schoolinitiated responses.
Kids see things differently to us and are more
vulnerable. Thus, we need to tread softly when
discussing such matters with them. Starting small with,
say conflict in the schoolyard or disagreements among
friends may be a good lead in to a deeper exploration of
recent events. Outwardly there may be no perceptible
problems with these events. However, given the
widespread level of horror and distress, it is wise to raise
the topic and check out with them how they are feeling.
Most important is the need for Children (and parents) to
feel safe. To help develop this sense of safety it is
important that whilst parents acknowledge that these
types of things happen they keep them in perspective
and do not dwell on what may or may not happen. One
needs to recognise that as a parent one cannot guarantee
100% safety but action can be taken to reduce the
likelihood of being involved in unsafe situations rather
than letting the fear of certain occurrences govern our
lives. For example one cannot ensure that they, or their
child, will not be involved in a traffic accident but the
responsible parent takes preventative actions like
driving safely, using seat belts etc rather than refusing to
let their child ever hop in a motor vehicle or walk along
a street. In feeling safe children need to see that their
parents are being pro-active in practicing safety but are
not so engrossed in it that it dictates their life.
In keeping our children and ourselves safe is important
to be aware of just what is going on. Good information
is vital to making good decisions so keep informed.
Discuss things with your kids, keep up to date with what
they’re feeling and experiencing.
Another strategy to encourage a sense of security is to
give your children genuine attention - when you do
spend time with them, be fully present. Connect on as
many levels as possible. Do things with them, discuss
lots of topics, and plan family outings and holidays.
This will open up channels of communication and
ensure a strong relationship that can handle all sorts of
crises that happen both within and external to the family
unit.
In discussions, practice making statements that
acknowledge your feelings as well as your opinions eg.
“I feel sad that people of different beliefs or nationalities
do things that hurt each other” rather than specifying or
blaming a particular religion/ nationality/group. It may
feel strange at first but modeling this behaviour is really
effective in assisting young people to deal with
emotions that arise in response to catastrophic events.
For a complete list of Regional Parenting Service articles go to the City of Greater Geelong website
www.geelongaustralia.com.au/community/family/services/article/8cbc84b53070368.aspx
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