With the recent tragic events in Margaret River involving school children the advice reported given by psychiatrists to parents on how to deal with children who knew those who got killed is:
1. Give straight forward answers without going into the difficult details
2. Let the child know the parents are there to support them
To me this sounds quite reasonable and I would add one other thing. When a child is placed in a new situation that is ‘traumatic’ such as this one or perhaps a traffic accident they may be in, the first thing the child will do is look to the parents and read how they reacting. They get the way to respond to a unique situation by watching the parents.
So in this situation I would also say the parents need to be cognisant of how they are emotionally reacting in front of the children. There is nothing wrong with a child seeing mother cry or be angry or scared as long as it is not over the top. In fact it is good for children to see their parents show emotions as long as they are not extreme.
Over the years I have had many parents ask me if it is Ok for their child to go to a funeral. And of course it is but the same applies. If child sees mother cry at a funeral there is nothing wrong with that, indeed it is a good thing for the child’s development. However if mother at the sight of the casket being placed in the grave starts to shriek and wail loudly and then throw herself into the grave onto the casket, it would be better if the kids did not see that and did not attend the funeral.
The problem is not the funeral but how the mother and father (or others) will emotionally react at the funeral.
Children are psychologically resilient beings that these days we do not give them enough credit for at all.
When a child is in a new and unknown situation that is emotionally charged it will try and read how mother is emotionally reacting in its attempt to get a base line for itself.