Barbara Weiner Dubeck: To manage grief, we must face it
NORTHAMPTON — The horrific events in Newtown, Conn., have left us to cope with feelings of fear, grief and deep concern. I noticed how understandably unprepared many adults were for talking with children about the violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Even those of us with background and training in this area had to pause, breathe and dig deep to navigate this tragedy.
No matter how hard we try to shield our kids from hearing about violent events, they most likely will hear about them in school, or from a neighbor, older sibling, friend or, in spite of our best efforts, from the media. We need to learn how to initiate the conversation. In fact, it is our responsibility to make sure that our children receive honest information from reliable, caring adults before they get their information elsewhere.
I have spoken with a number of people who believe that talking with children about what happened in Connecticut will scare them and make them sad and anxious. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary; children feel safer when they are encouraged and supported to talk about their fears, confusion and sadness.
If something is unmentionable, it becomes unmanageable. We want to raise a generation that has the capacity to understand that when difficult things occur, adults are prepared to guide the conversation and help them with their thoughts and feelings.
We cannot be vague and circumspect because a child’s imagination is almost always more powerful than the truth. And, if we are not willing to be forthcoming with accurate, age-appropriate information, children are likely to make up what they think happened from bits and pieces they pick up from their peers or as they overhear adult conversations.
Communicating with children about the horrors of loss and disaster is not an easy task. It calls for courage and wisdom. We all wish that we would never have to talk about such things with young people, but we unfortunately don’t have a choice. And if we avoid seeking out resources and taking a lead, greater suffering can result.
It is said, “we learn about the rope of life by untying its knots.” Let’s vow to give our children the necessary communication and coping skills for the inevitable and difficult life events that they will encounter as they grow up.
That said, may there never be another tragedy like the one in Newtown.
Barbara Weiner Dubeck is the founding and former director of The Garden: A Center for Grieving Children and Teens. She was a counselor in the Amherst schools for 22 years and a consultant with the Good Grief Program offering crisis support to schools and agencies.