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Helping your children cope with recent tragedies

by Bryan Painter Modified: June 24, 2008 at 1:39 am •  Published: June 24, 2008

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. has disabled the comments for this article.
by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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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
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 background
In 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.

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