News of the SAFRA Yishun accident that cost 15-year-old Jethro Puah his life shook many Singaporean parents to the core.
Although most of us did not know him personally, we all felt the pain and horror of what it must be like to lose a precious child. We all thought to ourselves, “It could have been my child.”
When tragedy strikes, life becomes filled with uncertainties. Something painful, even catastrophic, has occurred in your world, and you are now left with the challenge of trying to pick up the pieces and move forward.
If an adult can struggle to make sense of the difficult emotions of grief and trauma, what more a child? If your child has witnessed or experienced a tragedy, your guidance and input as a parent is crucial to their recovery and understanding of the situation. Here are some steps you can take:
- Try to maintain a routine for a sense of normalcy
When crisis strikes, disorientation, doubt and confusion will arise. A close-to-normal routine will give your child something familiar to hold onto, even as they adjust to their new realities. Identify the activities that can continue with minimal interruption. Can familiar food be prepared? Can a bedtime routine carry on uninterrupted? Can a child continue school life as before?
While some circumstances will have to change, giving thought to how you can maintain familiar patterns will be well worth the effort.
- Encourage your child to be honest with their emotions
It can help to use simple analogies to present the importance of facing our feelings. Take for example a wound. A wound needs to be cleaned and exposed to air (even through a bandage) to heal. It can be painful to clean a fresh would, but doing so allows it to get better.
A child may develop behaviours that numb their fears or hurts. Social withdrawal, passivity, aggressiveness, rebellion or busyness and even substance abuse may be used to push the feelings away.
Such patterns may win the battle but will ultimately lose the war. Remind your child that expressing their emotions is part of the healing process and be available to listen when they are ready to talk about things.
- Accept your child’s emotions as they are
A child’s emotions will vary. One may initially experience shock, disbelief or denial. The range of emotions such as fear, hurt, anger, rage, doubt, hopelessness, guilt, apathy, sadness and even depression, may come and go.
We can play the vital role of acknowledging and validating our child’s feelings, however extreme they might seem. Accepting them doesn’t mean we are agreeing to everything they say.
By providing emotional support through our attentiveness, nods, and a listening ear, we are effectively giving our children the courage to face the trauma.
- Let your child ask questions about life at a deeper level
“Is there anything beyond what we see?
Why is there suffering in our world?
What happens when we die?”
These are important questions children often struggle with. Give them the freedom to raise them. The questions children ask provide a window into the ways they are trying to make sense of what has happened. You don’t need to know all the answers, but it will be valuable for you to think about some of these same issues if you have not already done so.
- Accept non-verbal forms of processing the tragic event
Not all ways of addressing pain are done through discussion, especially in children. It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Art, games and drama can unveil deep fears and hurts surrounding a tragedy that would otherwise have been left unsaid. Journaling and poetry may express through a pen what would never be uttered through one’s lips. Be creative with your child and find ways to express and discuss these emotions.
- Have fun with your child
As difficult as it may feel, do things that allow you to laugh together. Playing games, telling jokes or sharing family stories can help lighten everyone’s mental load. Working through the pain will take time, but fun and laughter are a necessary part of the process. A board game, a trip to the zoo, or a good movie together can help put a smile on your child’s face. Grieving can’t take place in a non-stop fashion — we all need the emotional break that fun provides.
If for some reason your child doesn’t talk freely with you, let him talk to a safe, familiar person about the tragedy.
Sharing feelings with someone will be a great help in processing grief, even if it’s not with a parent. If possible, that person should be the same gender as your child and share your worldview.
To develop a more open relationship with your child, you can also share your own feelings about the situation, whenever appropriate.
Dealing with tragedy has its ebbs and flows. One may be moving forward quite well and then, seemingly out of nowhere, get hit with a fresh wave of painful emotions. Let your child know that such an experience is normal. These waves of grief will come, but if dealt with appropriately, will diminish over time.
© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
If someone you love is having issues dealing with trauma, please contact us to make an appointment with a counsellor.
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