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Mama Drama: Addressing the Trauma of Tragedy

Dear Mama Drama:
With one traumatic event after another in the headlines I am struggling to manage my own anxieties much less those of my children. We are all sad, angry, and afraid, and struggling to maintain our emotions and get through our daily routines. What advice do you have to help us?
~Stressed Out Mama

(photo credit)

Dear Stressed:
While news of violent acts often leads to a mild increase in anxiety and fear, the recent string of tragedies has overwhelmed many children and adults. You and your family are not alone. Following are some ideas to support you through these difficult times.

Limit exposure to news media. Hearing and seeing the information and images related to tragic events can be traumatic and intensify anxieties and fears. There is a difference between being informed and being overwhelmed. Be thoughtful about what you choose to watch and listen to. Then, share the information with your children in an age appropriate manner. If they are older, watch and listen together so you are there to help them to interpret what they hear on television, radio, and the web.

Allow time to grieve and express feelings and fears. It is natural to want to move on and avoid the pain of tuning into our feelings about these tragic events. However, allowing time to cry and feel the sadness, anger, and fear can keep it from overwhelming us. Sometimes talking feels too difficult or the words are not there, so use music, drawing, painting, and sculpting as ways to express feelings, too. You don’t have to make it better or have all the answers, just be there to love and support each other.

Recognize all the ways you are safe and the steps in place to maintain that safety. Acknowledge the ways you are all safe right now. Then talk with your kids about the safety measures in place at home, school, and other places you frequent. If you don’t know what these are, investigate and find out. Knowing what is going on behind the scenes can help all of you feel more secure.

Find the balance between safety and trust. Help your children remember that most people are kind and willing to help. Discuss the people in the community who they can trust such as teachers, police officers, neighbors, etc., and make sure they have a plan for what to do if they feel unsafe.

Look for joy. Take time to notice and acknowledge the little and big moments of joy throughout each day. Tuning into your own light and joy helps to dissipate the effects of the dark acts around us. Notice and practice acts of kindness, demonstrate compassion for yourself and others, and honor each person for who they are.

Take action. Feeling helpless can exacerbate your sense of fear and anxiety, so take action to voice your concerns or stand up for a change you think will make a difference. Light a candle, write a letter, make a phone call, or join a group that supports your beliefs.

Seek professional help. If you or your children are still overwhelmed in your daily life and unable to return to your normal functioning, seek the support of a professional counselor, social worker, or psychologist. Even though you were not part of the tragic events, you have been traumatized by them. That trauma is real and you need support to get through it.

A good book to read with children is Jenny is Scared: When Sad Things Happen in the World by Carol Shuman. For children who have witnessed scary events either in person or through watching them on television the book A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret M. Holmes can also be helpful.

As people returned to more typical routines this week a journalist on NPR noted, “Everything is normal, but nothing is the same.” This is true for all of us as we find the strength and courage to move forward in the aftermath of tragic events.

What do you do to care for yourself and your families when news of tragedy strikes?

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential. Read more of Lisa’s parenting perspective at her Laughing Yoga Mama blog.

When Being a Parent Means Bearing Brutally Bad News

My generation is no stranger to witnessing horrible moments in human history. We remember where we were when the Challenger exploded. Many of us were watching it on live TV. I was in 9th grade AA Civics, listening to a kid give a speech on air safety when the principal broke over the intercom with the news.

When the Columbine massacre occurred, I was a young mom of two very small kids. I watched it unfold on television, stunned how children could commit atrocities aimed at other children. On 9/11, I was home with three small ones and pregnant with our fourth baby. As they spent the day parked in front of Nick Jr. and the Disney Channel, I was in an adjoining room watching the towers fall. When they came to me for snacks and diaper changes, I’d turn the small TV toward the wall. They were too young to see, too young to understand. Heck. I still don’t understand.

I wondered what kind of a world my unborn baby would be born into.