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Prepared for parents by Dr. Elizabeth Paquette, Mental Health Lead, OCSB

In stressful times, families and schools need to work together to foster supportive relationships for our students. Children and youth may not understand the context of recent events and communications they have heard or seen through various media. This may lead to feelings of fear and uncertainty regarding their own safety, the safety of family or friends. Caring adults need to help children and youth understand their emotional reactions, to help them engage in positive coping behaviours and to be supportive of each other. 

We’ve created some tips to help you and your child feel safe, as we all work together throughout this time.

Be calm and reassuring
Children take their emotional cues from the significant adults in their lives. Your reactions are the most important. Recognize that some children may be concerned about something bad happening to themselves, family or friends. Explain to them the safety measures in place and reassure them that you and other adults will take care of them.

Monitor the news and social media
Images of a disaster or crisis event can become overwhelming, especially if watched repetitively. Young children, in particular, may not be able to distinguish between images on television and their personal reality. Older children may choose to watch the news, but be available to discuss what they see and to help put it into perspective.

Spend family time
Being with family is always important in difficult or sad times. Even if your children are not significantly impacted by this event, this may be a good opportunity to participate in and to appreciate family life. Doing things together reinforces children’s sense of stability and connectedness. Tell them that you love them and give them plenty of attention.

Be a good listener and observer
Let children guide you to learn how concerned they are or how much information they need. If they are not focused on the current situation, do not dwell on it. However, be available to answer their questions to the best of your ability. Provide a safe space for them to talk about their fears. Young children may not be able to express themselves verbally. Pay attention to changes in their behaviour or social interactions. The following reactions in children or youth may indicate a need for further support: isolation or refusal to participate in daily activities, prolonged changes in their behaviour.

Be informed
It is important to consult with reputable sites to obtain updated information about the current situation. Ottawa Public Health has updated evidence-informed local information. When tensions are high, we may tend to blame others for difficult situations.  It is important to avoid stereotyping one group of people. Be kind.

Emphasize people’s resiliency
Help children understand the ability of people to come through a tragic or stressful event and go on with their lives. Focus on children’s own competencies in terms of how they coped in daily life during difficult times. In age-appropriate terms, identify other crises from which people, communities, or countries have recovered.

Highlight positive outcomes
It can be helpful to notice the good that emerges within challenging events; such as how the world or a community comes together, how people help one another, the heroes that help, and small acts of kindness.

Ask for help if you or your children need it
Any tragedy can feel overwhelming for families directly affected, particularly those who have lost loved ones. Staying connected to your community can be extremely helpful. It may also be important to seek additional support from a mental health professional to cope with overwhelming feelings.

Be aware of your own needs
Don’t ignore your own feelings of anxiety, fear, and anger. Talking to friends, family members, priests, and mental health counsellors can help. It is appropriate to let your children know what you are feeling as long as you are able to do so in a calm manner. You will be better able to support your children if you can express your own emotions in a productive manner. Get appropriate sleep, nutrition, and exercise.

Ask for help
Any stressful event can feel overwhelming for families. Staying connected to your community can be extremely helpful. It may also be important to seek additional support from mental health professionals to cope with overwhelming feelings.