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How can I address 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

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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.

Talking with Kids about 9/11: Lessons in Compassion

With the ten year anniversary of September 11th looming near, many parents may be wondering what to tell their children about that infamous day. Most of today’s school age kids were either very young children or not yet born when the attacks occurred. They likely don’t have their own memories of the day, but have grown up in a world significantly impacted by its events. Terror alerts, Al-Qaeda, the TSA, and the wars of Iraq & Afghanistan have been a constant backdrop to their young lives.

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For many parents this anniversary may bring up surprising emotions including memories of the trauma they experienced on 9-11 and the days and months following as we learned more and more about the events surrounding the attacks and the

Mama Drama: Talking with Kids about Disasters

Dear Mama Drama:

With all the recent news about the earthquake, tsunami, and possible nuclear meltdowns in Japan I’m concerned about my children. I want to address their fears, but am not sure where to start.

~Devastated Mama

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(Send your Mama Drama questions to [email protected])

Dear Devastated:

Fortunately, we just received the following information from Kidproof Colorado addressing this exact issue.

Whether she’s overheard teachers talking in the lunchroom, seen scary images on a friend’s TV, or caught sight of your morning newspaper, your child has likely heard about Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. Even though she hasn’t experienced the trauma personally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency warns that even news about disasters can spark fear, confusion and insecurity in kids and teens.  Here’s what to look for and how you can help.

Children at different ages show stress in different ways. Babies and toddlers may pick up on family tension and show it by crying, fussing or cuddling more than usual. Scary images of disasters may cause preschoolers, ages 3 to 6, to feel fearful or insecure, and they may cling to you more than usual. School-age children may become intensely curious, asking non-stop questions to reassure themselves.

With vivid imaginations and a sense of compassion, grade-schoolers may show sadness and fear, guilt over not being able to help and confusion over why the disaster happened. Tweens and teens, ages 11 to 18, have a better understanding, but they may become fearful of leaving home, or jaded about the state of the world. Teens may deal with their fears with risk-taking or abusing alcohol or drugs. Your child may also show other signs of stress, including trouble sleeping, a loss or increase in appetite, fighting and aggression, problems with school, more frequent crying, nightmares or reverting to childish behavior, like baby talk or wetting the bed.

HOW CAN PARENTS HELP KIDS UNDERSTAND THE DISASTER?

** The most important thing you can do as a parent is to open up the lines of communication, tailoring your messages based on your child’s age and maturity level.

** If your little one is under 7, it’s best to shut off the television, keep him away from the Internet, and protect him from information he really doesn’t need to know. At the same time, remember that he’s keenly aware of your own fear and sadness. Give frequent hugs, reassure him that your family is safe, and answer his questions honestly and simply.

** For older children and teens, you can be more assertive. Ask them what they’ve heard and what they think about the information. You may choose to watch the news together, and then answer their questions with facts, without speculating or talking about worst-case scenarios. Some kids may be satisfied with the bare basics while others may feel better learning all that they can.

** You should also ask your child how she feels. Common fears are that the event will happen again, that a loved one will be hurt or killed, or that she’ll be left alone to fend for herself. Explain that these emotions are normal and natural, and let her know how you handle your own fear and sadness. Be aware that your child may show emotions by acting out; have her write in a journal or draw a picture instead. Reassure her, keep her busy with activities and chores, stick with your usual family routines, have a family meeting to dust off your disaster-preparedness plans and spend extra time together.

** Your child may also feel better if you find a way to join the relief effort. This might mean doing something nice for a schoolmate whose relatives were struck by the disaster, sending his weekly allowance to the American Red Cross or joining a church or community effort. Let them know that disasters are a fact of life, but so is human kindness.

Kidproof designs innovative courses and educational materials that cover a range of children’s safety needs including BullyProofing, CyberSafety, Babysitting, First Aid and more. By connecting with millions of parents and kids annually, Kidproof and its child safety education franchisees help create safer communities by delivering exclusive child safety programs to schools, community centers, youth organizations, churches and private groups. To learn more visit www.kidproofsafety.com, email [email protected], or contact the Kidproof Colorado office at 720-344-4722.

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.