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Helping Your Gifted Child Cope With Tragic Events

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Updated August 02, 2011

We can all sometimes feel helpless when we experience or even just hear about catastrophes and tragedies. Earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, kidnappings, school shootings -- all these events can affect us profoundly. However, children can be even more profoundly affected because they look to adults to keep the world safe, and when things happen that even adults have no control over, they can lose their sense of security.

Gifted children, especially those who are exceptionally sensitive can be even more profoundly affected by such events. These children may also feel that loss of security, but they can feel even more. Some of these children feel deep empathy for the victims of catastrophes and tragedies. The pain and suffering of the victims and their loved ones is felt deeply by emotionally sensitive children, so deeply at times, that it is almost as if they are personally involved.

Some gifted children will also feel a sense of responsibility. That does not mean that they believe that they are in any way responsible for the catastrophe or tragedy happening. It means that they feel a responsibility to make things better, to help those involved recover. It's hard enough for children to cope with the feeling of insecurity such events can trigger, but when they feel as though it is their responsibility to make things better, they can feel overwhelmed and become depressed.

How can you help your gifted child cope with tragic Events?

  1. Discuss the tragedy or catastrophe with your child

    It's common for parents to want to protect their children from unpleasant feelings. We don't want our children to be sad or afraid or hurt. In an attempt to shelter their children from these feelings, some parents will avoid discussing tragedies with their children. They believe that by ignoring the event, their children will somehow forget about it, or the parents may believe that talking about the event will make the event more real and cause even more distress for their children.

    However, it is far more likely that the children will become even more apprehensive and fearful if they aren't given the opportunity to discuss their feelings about what happened and understand what happened. Without the facts, children will imagine the worst that could happen to them, to their family, their friends, and even the entire world. This is especially true for those gifted children who have high imaginational sensitivity.

  2. Maintain your normal routine as much as possible

    Although it is important to discuss the tragic event with your children, you shouldn't dwell on it. It is certainly acceptable to attend vigils or engage in other activities that demonstrate support and condolence and allow expressions of grief. These are all activities that acknowledge the event and the effect it has had on us.

    However, it is equally important to maintain as much of a normal routine as possible or return to a normal routine as soon as possible. Normal routines are comforting because they are familiar. They help children feel secure because children know what to expect. If routines are altered for too long, children can become even more anxious than they were already because they don't know what to expect.

  3. Acknowledge your child's feelings and encourage a free discussion of them

    When a tragic event occurs, children may fear that the same or a similar event could happen to them as well. Parents often think that the best way to comfort their children is to tell them not to worry, that everything will be okay. However, simply telling a child not to worry will not stop that child from worrying. In fact, it could make the child feel that his or her feelings are somehow wrong.

    Telling gifted children they shouldn't worry could also make them feel as those they should be able to control their emotions. They need help coping with those emotions and you can't help them cope with their feelings if you don't acknowledge them and allow your children to talk about them.

  4. Discuss the ways in which your children are protected

    Many times children do not understand that many security precautions are in place both in your home, in your schools, and in your community. This includes safety procedures for potential natural disasters in your area such as earthquakes, floods, and tornadoes, as well as other potential tragedies, such as kidnappings and school shootings. If you don't know what those precautions are in the school and the community, find out. Be careful, though, that you don't give your children more information than they need. For example, if your child is concerned about school shootings after learning about one in the news, don't bring up every other potential disaster to reassure your child that precautions are in place for those as well.

  5. Encourage action

    Nothing promotes a feeling of helplessness more than doing nothing. Doing nothing reinforces the sense that nothing can be done. Sending money and needed supplies to victims of natural disasters is one way to do something. It's important, though, to let your children be a major part of the giving. In other words, it's not always enough for you to give your money to your children to send to the victims. Instead, encourage them to earn some money by doing extra chores around the house or setting up a lemonade stand or some other money-making activity.

    You can also help your child set up a program at school to collect money, food, clothing or whatever else is needed. If nothing else, you can encourage your child to write letters of condolence and support to victims of tragedies. They need to know that they can make a difference.

  6. Encourage creative expressions of fear, anxiety and grief

    Music, art, and creative writing are all excellent outlets for emotions. Children who play an instrument or sing can be encouraged to learn a new song that expresses their feelings. Children who are artistic or enjoy drawing, painting, or any other art form can be encouraged to express their feelings through pictures, sculptures or some other art form. Children who like to write can be encouraged to write a poem or short story to express their feelings.
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