KNOXVILLE (WATE) – When a national tragedy occurs, such as a shooting, terrorist or natural disaster, children may be confused or frightened. Most likely they will look to adults for information and guidance on how to react.
Kristin Bradley, the Prevention and Early Intervention Services Coordinator at Helen Ross McNabb Center said the key is to leave the door open for children to talk to mom or dad about how they’re feeling. “When tragedies likes this happen, they are all over the news. Parents are talking about it. Adults are talking about it, so the kids at some point in time are going to hear about it in some form or fashion,” said Bradley. “I think it’s important to explain, one, the person that made decision to shoot those guns, that it was a bad choice on his part and that it is a situation that doesn’t happen every day. It was situational. It was in that moment.”
Bradley said it is important to let children talk about their feelings and their thoughts about tragedies, but adds it is important to let children have time to process their thoughts and feelings. She says sometimes children have to step back from tragedies, process their emotions and says it is important to leave the door open so they can feel comfortably coming back for answers to questions.
“Let them have a chance to think it out, let them come up with their own thoughts on it and be able to have that conversation with their parents. That’s just so they can go through that grieving process themselves,” she said. Bradley said it children may not directly connect to that incident, but may sense that it is a tragedy to their community and the people around them.
How young is too young? Bradley says you have to start the conversation early, but you have to do it age appropriately. “Unfortunately, at some point in our lives we’re going to experience death whether it is from natural causes or a tragedy,” she said. “I think it is okay to help kids understand that, that memorials are sometimes a way that people to morn the loss or celebrate the lives of others.” She says for one or two-year-old children you just want to explain a person is “no longer with us” rather than going into detail.
The big thing to remember is to keep the fear out of the conversation and help children understand the process of life. “It is important for us to validate their feelings. These feelings are very real to them and letting them know it is okay to feel that way. It’s okay to feel sad about this or be upset or wonder what’s going on,” said Bradley.
She says if the feeling do persist for a period longer than two or three weeks it may be time to look at possibly getting into a therapy service that can help children process their grief.
Counselors help veterans cope with grief after Chattanooga shooting
Emotions ran high at the site of a deadly attack that killed five service members. The Department of Veterans Affairs brought in counselors from across the country to help veterans in the wake of the shooting.
Les Souligne, a navy veteran, visiting the memorial site with his wife to pay his respects and talk to counselors. He said “it’s beginning to feel like you’re in battle at home.” Souligne says he’s praying for peace and hoping nothing like this ever happens again.
Counselors have already talk to more than one hundred veterans all struggling with the same feeling. “Everybody now is just grieving and trying to get through this,” said counselor Ronnie Roberts.
Counselors from the Department of Veterans Affairs will be at the site for the rest of the week or longer, if needed. Some came as far as Dallas to help veterans as they mourn the loss of five of their own.