As each adult grapples with this trauma differently, so will our children. Maria Trozzi, M.D., author of Talking with Children About Loss and the director of the Good Grief Program at Boston Medical Center, offers the following insights into how children of different ages may respond and need support.
You have to keep asking them what they have heard. Help them make sense of it. They still have no real perspective between ages 6 and 12. They’ll wonder: "Does this mean we’ll go to war? If there were a war, would we all be bombed?" They need the reassurance that this is not a huge group, but a few; and that an all-out war -- their reference being what they see on TV and in the movies -- will not happen.
They also need to know that the nation’s leaders are working hard and together to protect our country. Remind them to look around at all the wonderful people who are wrapping their arms around our nation and that what happened is very, very rare and has never happened before.
They may also gloss over it and be sarcastic, saying things like "Are you still watching all this stupid stuff?" This is because they are old enough to understand how huge this is and it scares them. They understand the loss. And they may be less able to openly take comforting. Be a steady listener. Allow them the protection they find in the sarcasm. Be around a lot, ready to listen when they are ready to talk. Ask them questions, but don’t bug them.
"She was terrified," Trozzi recalls. "She left and went home and called me at work and told me I had to come home. That is not atypical. My 23-year-old, a med. student, was hysterical. They have feelings like 10-year-olds, but are supposed to act like adults."
They, like all of us, will very soon need to know what they can do. They will need to take action. Help them find ways to help. Maybe they can go to prayer services or give blood (www.redcross.org/donate/html or 1-800-GIVE-LIFE , 1-800-HELP-NOW).
What Can We Do?
To achieve resiliency, children and adults need to understand, grieve and, eventually, "commentate" on these events, says Trozzi. "‘Commentating’ is doing something, giving this chaos meaning, helping. This is our way of expressing our humanity. They may want to write a story, draw a picture, make a journal or donate blood or some of their discretionary money to a charity that is created to help. They may want to work through your temple, church or mosque."
With tentative hope, Trozzi cites the words of the famous teacher of grieving, Rabbi Earl Grollman: "Grief shared is grief diminished."
"If we flip that," Trozzi says, "we can imagine, as each of us is able to do something, this commentating will multiply and grow and extend across our nation."