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Manchester: How to Parent After This Tragedy

Manchester: How to Parent After This Tragedy

You've heard about Manchester of course. 22 dead as I type, including kids. Kids for God's sake. At a concert, having fun, then literally - boom.
You'll have possibly watched news reports, read articles, the endless tweets. You may have teared up like I did when you saw the photo of the first victim identified - a sparkly happy photo taken of her with her idol Arianna, the same idol she watched last night. How I hope she enjoyed it.
How I hope it was quick. We hope for the small mercies at times like this, bizarre as they may sound - hoping that a child died quickly. Just typing it is weird.
You may have been directly affected by the tragedy, and please accept my deepest condolences if this is so.
The rest of us, who are affected at a (not so big) distance, might think we are unaffected. But we are, at some level, just because we are human. Some differently than others of course. For some of us, fear will creep into our lives over the next few days. We might have trouble sleeping, we might feel sad or angry. We might be super sensitive to our childrens' whereabouts, vigilant in public areas.
This is about terror. Terror. Have you ever really thought about that word and its meaning? It's bigger than fear.
Are you feeling terror? Are your kids?

Vicarious Trauma - trauma that isn't ours, but that we feel:
One of the things that can happen at a time like this is what we call Vicarious Trauma. This can be used to describe the feelings we experience when we read about or hear about traumatic events. As you can imagine most of the literature around this concerns helping professionals, but it applies to incidents like this too - to terror attacks.

Our sense of safety can be attacked by what we witness, even if it's not a direct experience. It can affect how we think, how we behave, how we vote. Look what happened in the US. Even if the awful thing happened in a whole other country it can remind us of our own, of ourselves.
One of my concerns, and this is why I'm writing this - in a rush, instead of lunch truth be told - is how this news 'lands' on little ears and eyes. My Twitter feed is full of stories right now, Facebook is awash with photos, I won't even describe them, maybe you've seen them too.
Have your kids?

What can we do?
  • First acknowledge your feelings: Take a moment to ask yourself how you feel about what's happened in the UK. Does it remind you of other tragedies? Are you flashing back? Feeling scared? Angry? Hopeless? Are you numb? These are all normal, and deserve some attention.
  • Check how your kids are feeling. Once you've established how you are, and maybe you're even surprised by how you are, you can now check in with how your kids are and help them to normalise whatever they are feeling. Ask your kids what they need right now. A hug? Reassurance?
  • Check what your kids know about what happened last night. They may not have the correct story. Take time to answer their questions in an age appropriate way and don't feel the need to fill in blanks. Generally speaking, kids will ask what they want to know. And generally speaking, what they want to know is that they're safe.
  • Limit your child's exposure to media over the next few days. Otherwise, stick to your routine and keep things normal. While some outlets report responsibly, by and large the media makes money from fear. I know this sounds terribly cynical, but it's true! Be mindful of your own fear, and how much of it is being whipped up by others. Fear is a contagion.
  • Be realistic with your kids. At the core of terror is fear and threat - fear of what MIGHT happen next. And so it might be good now to talk about your neighbourhood, if it's a safe one, and how unlikely it is that you will be targeted. And what to do, who to call, what to say if they ever feel scared.
  • If they have been traumatised before, they might be re triggered now - and so might you. And this might have been a loss, a death, or an injury. The feelings will be similar and the body might throw that all back up again as a way of trying to control this new current situation. It's like saying "OK, I've felt this before, I've got this. But wait, that was awful, oh no, so this might be too, it might be even WORSE oh NO" and before you know it, you're in a spiral. Sounds familiar? Well, it's unpleasant, but normal.
So, if your child or you or your family have experienced a previous, and seemingly unrelated trauma, it might be triggered by these current events. If so, stay present. Remind yourself and your child that this is not happening to you, to them. They are safe. That is all they need to know.
They. Are. Safe.

And if you or your childs' feelings of fear, sadness or agitation are not subsiding with some time, please, please seek professional help.  That's what we're here for!
Written by
Sally O’Reilly is the Family Psychology Expert at Family Friendly HQ. She's a Psychologist, Psychotherapist & Clinical Supervisor in private practice in East Cork with twenty years’ full time experience. She has a special interest in working with teenagers. For more info contact her through her site or on Twitter @psychosal or FB  at Sally O'Reilly Psychology & Psychotherapy.