Nov. 15th: National Children’s Grief Awareness Day — How to comfort children during public tragedies

 Andy McNiel

Andy McNiel

Children need our help to feel safe after a public tragedy.
— Andy McNiel, Founding CEO, National Alliance for Grieving Children

FORT MYERS, FL- November 14, 2018 - National Alliance for Grieving Children Founding CEO, Andy McNiel, will be in Southwest Florida, Thursday, November 15, to speak in honor of National Children’s Grief Awareness Day.

McNiel, who will be hosted by Valerie’s House and its founder and CEO Angela Melvin, has been on the forefront of children and grief for the past two decades. He has most recently been leading a nationwide effort to help children feel safe after a public tragedy.

“Children are filled with more anxiety and stress than they ever have before at school,” McNiel said. “There is no wonder so many of them have trouble focusing during class. Children need our help to feel safe after a public tragedy.”

McNiel reflects on how in less than two decades, children have gone from practicing for a fire drill to practicing for an active shooter drill. He has written numerous articles about the crisis (an excerpt is shared below).

Valerie’s House CEO, Angela Melvin, adds “Since many of the children in our program at Valerie’s House have already experienced a sometimes violent death in their household, the growing number of public shootings can often delay their ability to heal and feel safe again. Our children have already witnessed first-hand life’s tragedies in their own lives, and now find themselves living in a heightened state of fear.”

Note to members of the press: McNiel is available for in-person interviews Thursday, November 14 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., in your studio or at Valerie’s House, located downtown at 1762 Fowler Street, Fort Myers 33901. 

Call Valerie’s House CEO Angela Melvin at 239-478-6734 to schedule.

Children's Grief Awareness Day is celebrated on the third Thursday in November every year and designed to help Americans become more aware of the needs of grieving children and of the benefits children obtain through the support of others. For more information, go to www.childrengrieve.org

Helping Children Feel Safe after a Public Tragedy

(Excerpt from an article by the Sartori Group, published on October 5, 2017)

“Children are resilient,” is a phrase we often hear after a public tragedy. We hear it from mental health experts being interviewed by reporters. We hear it from reporters as they give tips to parents about caring for their children. We hear it from members of the public as they reflect on their own children’s responses to unthinkable situations. It is not true.

The truth is that children ARE VULNERABLE. Their minds are not fully developed. They are taking in the world around them, good and bad. They are being shaped by the things they see, hear and experience. What children experience and the support they receive has a direct impact on their health now and as they grow into adults (CDC).

The truth is that children CAN be resilient, but, they are not resilient in a vacuum. There are many factors that bolster resilience in children. Though these factors do not guarantee that children will be resilient, they do heighten the likelihood that children will be able to absorb difficulties and move forward in a healthy way.

The truth is that children who have one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult are more likely to be resilient (Harvard, 2015). There is a rich body of work over the past twenty years that supports this. This is the top factor that bolsters resilience in children, buffering against the impact of toxic stress on children’s development. 

With this truth in mind, how do we comfort children and help them feel safe after a public tragedy? How do we strengthen their ability to grow while at the same time dealing with their grief over the situation? First, they need our time and attention. If you have children in your home, dedicate special time with them to play or share a fun activity. Let them have a choice about what you do together.

Spend time with children on their terms, not just your terms. This boosts their self-confidence. Quite often, children will share openly with us about their feelings during these interactions. Also, when we are spending time with our children and giving them our undivided attention, we will see opportunities to encourage and reassure them.

Second, turn off the television and 24-hour reporting of the public tragedy. This is not to be mistaken as “hiding” the truth from your children. Children need to know the truth and it is best if they hear it from a caring adult with whom they have an ongoing relationship. It is okay to talk to your children about the tragedy and ask their feelings about it. But, there is no need to dwell on it or bombard them with news reports or conversations about it.

Third, meet them where they are at. When you are spending time with your children, check in with them periodically. Ask them how they are feeling. Ask them what they have seen or heard. Let them know they can ask you any question. Limit the amount of details you share, focusing on the details they express to you.

The truth is that building resilience and personal growth are not givens. They are processes in children that require time, attention and care. Central to a healthy child is at least one stable and committed parent, caregiver, or other adult.

References:

“Violence Prevention.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 June 2016, www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/about.html

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2015). Supportive Relationships and Active Skill-Building Strengthen the Foundations of Resilience: Working Paper No. 13. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.

About the Authors

Andy McNiel, MA & Pamela Gabbay, EdD, FT are the authors of “Understanding and Supporting Bereaved Children: A Practical Guide for Professionals” by Springer Publishing, New York, NY.

 

About Valerie’s House

Valerie’s House is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that has provided grief services since 2016 to over 300 children and their families from Lee, Collier, Charlotte and Sarasota counties at its Fort Myers and Naples locations. As the first program of its kind in Southwest Florida, Valerie’s House provides a safe, comfortable place for children of loss to bond, grieve and heal together following death of a close family member. The organization’s vision since its founding by Angela Melvin in 2016 is that no child will grieve alone. Valerie’s House is a United Way partner agency that is fully supported through generous donations from the community. For more information, visit https://valerieshouseswfl.org or contact Joanne at  Joanne@ValeriesHouseSWFL.org