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Coping with Tragedy

Posted Dec 18 2012 12:08pm

Words cannot begin to convey the feelings that flew through my heart as the news surrounding Friday’s tragedy unfolded. The words that come to mind are ones like grief, horror, astonishment, disbelief, and anger but none of those truly fit the bill.

If I, as an adult, have such difficulty processing the emotions that I feel about the Sandy Hook shooting then what could possibly be going through the minds of children who are aware of the incident?

Rabbi Meir, who runs the Columbia Jewish Day School, gave this advice for speaking to children about the shooting:

For Younger Children:

1. I would not bring this up with children under second grade.

2. If the child asks about the event begin by asking what they already know.

3. Once the child tells you what they know ask one more time, “Did you hear anything else?”

4. The above provides an understanding of what information or misinformation the child already possess.

5. Next, I would assure the child that while a bad man did a bad thing (using the correct details the child provided) this happened for away and the bad man is no longer alive.
6. The main point is to assure the child that they are safe and that mommy, daddy, their teachers, and principals are all working hard to keep them safe.
7. Many young children, when asking this question are really asking if they will be safe and we should supply the clear assurance that they will be safe.

For older children:
1. If an older child asks the question I also begin by finding out what they know.

2. For an older child the goals are to let the child know that they can always ask mom or dad any question and to assure them that we are all doing our best to keep them safe. 3. Many parents’ gut reaction is to share many details with the child; I do not feel that this is the best course for the child. 4. If a child asks this happened, A good response is, “I do not know why bad things like this happen but many people work hard to keep you safe.”
As a music therapist, there is one primary thing that I would be sure to do while exploring this topic musically:
Provide a predictable rhythmic and harmonic structure for the child to play within, which creates a structured and safe environment for a difficult topic.  Within music, there are many variables- rhythm, timbre, melody, volume, and harmony are just a few. By providing predictability in rhythm and harmony, children are able to experiment with the other elements on their own. It also provides me the opportunity to transition the rhythmic and harmonic elements of the music to match their playing as it evolves. In playing with a child in this manner, I have many opportunities to take it a step beyond improvisation if it is appropriate with that child. I can introduce the concept of playing different emotions that may be related to their feelings about Friday. We can improvise a piece specifically for those affected. We can play through the timeline of how they found out about Friday and have opportunities to musically express their feelings for each step of the way. In what ways will you process last week’s tragedy with your child? Music? Art? Dance? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
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