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Talking with Children about Tragedies, Death, and National Disasters
Top Tips for Camps
- Establish a mental health support network. Build relationships with community mental health resources prior to your camp season. Have professionals in place that you can contact at any time to help you with any difficult issues — such as providing grief counseling and talking with campers about community violence.
- Partner with parents. Every child and every family deals with tragedy, grief, and stress differently. Communicate with parents — especially if an event of community violence occurs while their children are in your care. Discuss with families your plans to talk with campers and staff. Offer opportunities for parents to connect with their children as they need.
- Don’t lie or tell half-truths to children about a tragic event. Provide age-appropriate information. Children are bright and sensitive. They will see through false information and wonder why you do not trust them with the truth. Let children know that lots of people are helping those affected by the act of community violence — including children, adults, and families.
- Model. Children learn from watching their parents, teachers, camp staff, and other adults. They are very interested in how you respond to local and national events. They also learn from listening to your conversations with other adults.
- Create an open and supportive environment. Develop an environment where children know they can ask questions. At the same time, it's best not to force children to talk about things unless and until they're ready.
- Listen. Incidents of community violence are not easy for anyone to comprehend or accept. Understandably, some young children may feel frightened or confused. As camp staff and caring adults, we can best help by listening and responding in an honest, consistent, and supportive manner. Acknowledge and validate the child's thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Let them know that you think their questions and concerns are important and appropriate.
Tips adapted from Helping Children Cope With Loss, Dealth, and Grief — Tips for Parents and Teachers, National Association of School Psychologists.
Articles and Advice
- Helping Children and Youth Cope in the Aftermath of Disasters: Tips for Parents and Other Caregivers, Teachers, Administrators, and School Staff Podcast
- Helping Children Cope With Loss, Dealth, and Grief — Tips for Parents and Teachers
- Helping Your Children Manage Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting
- Talking to Children about Community Violence
- Tips for Talking with Pre-school Aged Children after a Disaster
- We Teach Them How to Hope (ACA's Parent Place blog)
The following Web sites have good resources for talking with children about tragedy, death, and disasters:
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- American Psychological Association
- Federal Emergency Management Agency
- National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement
- The BabyCenter
- The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
- University of Illinois - Children, Stress, and Natural Disasters: School Activities for Children
Crisis and Security Resources
- ACA resources for dealing with a crisis situation — especially at camp.
- ACA resources on Camp Security
- All ACA Resources on the Emerging Issue of Public Violence