December 17, 2012
As are all Americans, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) is shocked and saddened by the terrible and senseless events that transpired last Friday in Newtown, CT. AAMFT and its 26,000 members share in the grief and heartache of that community and especially that of the Sandy Hook Elementary School family. Once again a community is traumatized by the senseless, inexplicable acts of a single individual whose motive we may never completely understand.
As an Association devoted to the care and nurture of individuals, families and children, AAMFT knows that this is not only a difficult time for the Newtown families but also for children and parents throughout North America. Helping our children to feel safe and come to an appropriate level of understanding is a paramount concern for AAMFT.
Dr. Karen Ruskin, a Clinical Fellow of AAMFT from Boston offers these suggestions for parents to help their children cope with this tragedy:
- Answer any and all questions your children have. Nothing is off the table. If you don’t have the answer be honest and tell them you will research the answer and get back to them.
- Be verbally attentive, physically affectionate, and nurturing in tone during your talk.
- Talk with not at your children.
- Discuss and educate them about mental illness.
- Reassure the low likelihood of this type of tragedy happening to them while balancing validation of the reality that it did and does happen.
- Ask them what they need to feel safe, and what you can do to help them to feel safe.
- Balance the worry and pain kids feel with a discussion of what they can do to help those who have been affected, and continue to be supportive of activities they enjoy doing so their entire mind is not on the tragedy 24/7. The balance of living life while mourning is just that- a balance, and yet it is important for children and parents to continue to live knowing that does not disrespect the honor of those who are no longer living among us.
- Some kids are chattier than others. Don’t assume because there are no questions your children are fine, nor assume because they are talking about it they are not fine. No assumptions, parents. Rather meet your kids on their terms, on their level, and continue to keep the line of communication open. What your children do not wish to discuss one moment in the day they may wish to at a different moment. Check in on them.
- Normalize what they are feeling, re-assure them that their thoughts and feelings are normal.
- Display strength and calm, and remember, how you act is a role model for them. How you react affects how they feel and thus act.
If your children are struggling with this tragedy and you as a parent are struggling with how to help them cope with sadness, anxiety, worry or anger, AAMFT encourages you to seek help.
Linda Metcalf, PhD.
AAMFT Past President
The AAMFT has also published the following related information on the website, available for the general public:
- Information about the loss of Clinical Fellow Nelba Márquez-Greene's daughter Ana Grace in Newtown, and ways to support her family and honor her memory, found here.
- A page of Tips, Tricks and Strategies for families to use while discussing crisis situations and difficult topics.