I was 11 years old when a man murdered Kevin Tapp of Enid in the summer of 1976. Kevin was also 11. I was 12 years old when someone murdered three Girl Scouts — Lori Lee Farmer, 8, of Tulsa; Michelle Guse, 9, of Broken Arrow; and Doris Denise Milner, 10, of Tulsa — at Camp Scott near Locust Grove during summer break in 1977. Now I'm 43 years old and someone has slain two young girls during summer break 2008 on a rural road in Okfuskee County. Granted, there have been many other horrible crimes in between. But this latest took me back to those in 1976 and 1977. People of all ages struggle, deeply struggle, with such senseless, hateful, twisted acts as these. But what about children? How will they remember summer break 2008? Were their friends slain? Were children their age slain? Did their parents no longer let them do things they had done before? Did fear become as much a part of their summer as T-shirts and shorts? How do we cope? More specifically how do we help children cope? Also unfortunate is the fact that I've previously asked this question of Charlotte Lankard, a marriage and family therapist in private practice with Baptist Counseling Associates. The last time was with the murder of Jamie Rose Bolin, 10, of Purcell in April 2006. Also unfortunate is the fact that this question needs to be asked now and will need to be asked again. Lankard, who also is director of the James L. Hall Center for Mind, Body and Spirit at Integris, said that sometimes children won't want to talk about it. They might "try to process it with their own limited understanding.” But that doesn't necessarily mean a parent should let it go. Saying nothing may increase the anxiety.
What can you do?So here are some suggestions about talking with children about a subject such as this. •Don't say "You shouldn't feel this way,” or "You don't need to worry about that.” •Don't judge what the child is feeling. In other words, don't say "that's silly” or "that's stupid” or accuse the child of overreacting. •On the other hand, do listen for the feelings underneath the words they are saying. Take their feelings and reflect them by saying "So you're feeling really scared/angry/sad?” •Ask the child what you can do with them that will maybe help that child feel safe. •Take their feelings and be specific in helping address it. •If he or she is scared: Check that all the doors have locks. Program cell phones with one-button dialing to parents/grandparents/sitter/911. •If the child is angry: What can we do to work off some of that anger — pound nails into a board, punch a punching bag, go for a bike ride — something active. •If the child is sad: Take — not mail — a donation with your child to a program who helps children who have had someone they love die. Let me close with a couple suggestions that may or may not help my children in times like these, but I know they've helped me. First, give your child an extra hug. Second, realize that you are never really as busy as you think so give that time to your family.
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A heart-shaped flower arrangement is shown near Weleetka at a makeshift memorial where two girls were killed. BY DAVID McDANIEL, THE OKLAHOMAN
AT A GLANCE
More tips•Share your own feelings about what happened ... give some thought to this before you speak. •Look at your local library for books about violence and trauma and how the children in the stories cope. •Reassure children that you love them and will do your best to protect them and reassure them that they are safe. •Avoid in-depth conversations with young children ... one or two sentences may be enough. But do watch their play. They often will act out feelings. Then you can talk about ways to express the feelings in a way that is not harmful to them or someone else. Source: Charlotte Lankard, a marriage and family therapist in private practice with Baptist Counseling Associates
Some backgroundIn today's column I refer to some specific murders of children when I was a child. Following is a little more information about those. •A Feb. 17, 1983 story in The Oklahoman about the 1976 murder of Kevin Tapp, 11, reported that the state Court of Criminal Appeals had reduced the sentence of a convicted child slayer from death to life in prison. Clifton Leroy Driskell had been sentenced to die by a Garfield County jury for the throat-slashing death of Tapp. The appellate court said several errors were committed in the trial. The youth disappeared July 29, 1976. His body, with his hands tied behind him, was found in a ditch near Covington the next day. Driskell died of natural causes July 19, 2007, while in prison, Corrections Department spokesman Jerry Massie said. •On the morning of June 13, 1977, a counselor discovered the bodies of Girl Scouts at Camp Scott near Locust Grove. The girls — Lori Lee Farmer, 8, of Tulsa; Michelle Guse, 9, of Broken Arrow; and Doris Denise Milner, 10, of Tulsa — had been abducted from their tents in the night and killed. No one has been convicted of the crimes.