When Tragedy Strikes! Parenting Through Pain

by | Nov 14, 2019 | Family, Mental Health, Tips

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tragedy at home?

Family tragedies occur, that’s a fact of life. If you are fortunate, you will avoid major tragedy in your life, but that isn’t true for everyone. Whether it is dealing with the death of a loved one, a prolonged sickness, divorce, the loss of precious belongings, or the death of a pet, family tragedy seeps into everyone’s life and can be challenging for parents and children. 

mom hugging 2 daughters, dealing with tragedy

Listen Well, how are they coping?

Nothing can make the pain of a tragedy disappear, but you can help your child learn and grow in the face of sorrow. Children and adults experience emotional stress and pain during these events. As the parent, you mustn’t neglect your own feelings and emotions, but you also MUST care for your child’s feelings.

Listen intently when they share about how they are coping. Listen carefully to what they say and what they don’t say. Watch their behaviors. Are they acting differently? Are they short tempered or somber? These are red flags indicating there is something deeper to address. They need you to spend quality time with them. Set aside what you are doing and give them your best attention. Validate their feelings.

Dad and son with soccer ball

Help them to see that what they are experiencing is natural and normal. Assure them you are supportive and trustworthy. 

Lots of Love, routines, coping skills

It is normal to want to fix things for our children when they are hurting. We all remember when we could “kiss the injury” and our toddler would stop crying. So it is normal to hyper-focus on fixing this pain as well. You can, and should, show your child empathy and console their fears.

Be sure to realize that obsessing about their struggle is counter productive. If daily conversations become a rehashing of feelings and emotions, your child will learn to stop sharing with you. Instead, give your child an overflowing amount of unconditional love, have fun together, and keep family routines as normal as possible. 

In our family we experienced the tragedy of a house fire. When our children were in grade school and middle school, our home burned and we lost many belongings. We all experienced the insecurity of feeling unsafe in our home.

During the months that followed, we showed our children lots of love. We played games, went on outings and hung out together. We made a deliberate decision to keep family routines intact. It would have been easier to set aside those routines. We were a family of 7 living in a 3 bedroom townhouse for 5 months! But those routines kept us connected and offered security. We talked with our children about the fire. We answered their questions. But we didn’t dwell on the event. In the end, moving back to our home was a joyful event. 

Admit You Don’t Have All The Answers

Tragedy offer parents an opportunity to teach their children lessons about life and character development. You can give your child perspective by explaining to them that life is sometimes painful and hurts. Assure them that things will improve. Children need to hope for a better tomorrow.

They will be watching to see how you cope. Many times parents are also dealing with intense emotions and traumatic feelings. Admitting that you don’t have all the answers gives your child the freedom to feel okay about their uncertainties and insecurity. These difficult and candid discussions can foster courage and confidence in your children. Humans develop strong character traits by living through difficult times. 

Parenting Through Pain and Tragedy

Of course, professional help may be necessary for you and/or your child. Watch for signs that they are not coping well. Perhaps your child is experiencing nightmares, having difficulty sleeping or is overwhelmed by life. These are indicators that a professional counselor should be consulted. A good place to start is with the school counselor.

Helping children process enormous life events is the responsibility of parents. You know your child best and can explore ways to help him/her express their emotions. Our artistic daughter used drawing to process her experience. A couple days after the fire, the first graders were asked to draw a picture of their home. We were living temporarily in a hotel. Of course, she drew an extremely accurate picture of the Super 8! 

Do you have tips to share about dealing with family tragedy? Share them in our Facebook Group

By Lisa Reichelt, M.Ed., Parent Coach

When Tragedy Strikes! Parenting through pain

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