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Hundreds of families/children were present last night at the Orleans Fireworks display and found themselves too close for comfort to the unexpected fire that erupted at the end. The statistics show that among direct witnesses to even fatal traumatic events such as 9/11 and the marathon bombing, less than half go on to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, possibly as few as 20%. The event last night certainly pales in comparison to a traumatic event where lives are lost or serious injuries are sustained, however, it is important to recognize that there are needs of those who were present, and that while some thought the event was simply exciting, others experienced the event as acutely stressful. Following are some tips about how to approach children about this event.
I was just at the Superette picking up a few things. EVERYONE was talking about it. (Well, not everyone.) Everyone has a commentary. Some people give an account with great emotion in their voice and strong opinion. Our children don’t need to hear adults expressing “Big Emotion.” It is ok to say to your children when you get back into the car, something like, “People can get caught up in the excitement of it all! Let’s try to remember that everyone got out safe and sound and the emergency personnel did a great job helping everyone stay protected.” Be careful of your own conversation on the phone and at home with family and friends. It is important that your children not be witness to the “drama aftermath.”
Our children are watching others but the ones with the strongest influence are their parents. They will mirror your response in more cases than not.
People benefit from being allowed to share their own experience, in their own words, and having loved ones be good listeners. Some good questions are, “What was it like for you when you realized a fire had started?” “What were you thinking when I quickly said, let’s get our things and get to the car?” Try to avoid statements that assign feelings that may not be accurate, such as, “You must have been terrified!” “How awful for a child to experience something like that.” Once there have been a few talks about it, let it rest. Check in with your children about other aspects of their life and look for cues, IF there are any, that your child wants to talk some more about it. A few weeks later is a good time, such as around the dinner table, to bring it up again, “Has anyone been thinking about the night of the fireworks?” If so, give turns to talk and listen.
As I might be thinking, “Come on, why didn’t they call it because of the wind!? What were they thinking!” “Who’s to blame?” kind of thinking. Our children don’t need to sort out the blame or feel conflict or dissension, especially if YOU really wanted to pack up the kids and go and your husband said it’s too windy, but you won.
If you have a back yard fire pit, get it going. Be very safe and talk openly about how you are being safe. How is the wind? Is long hair tied back? Is there water within reach? How do we put it out and make sure it is out? Are sparks falling on dry grass? Use the opportunity to talk about fire safety. Let your children beckon the question, “I think it was too windy to have fireworks that night.” If you don’t have a fire pit, light a candle at the table for dinner and include some points about safety.
Talk about the fire and police departments and what their roles were and the fact that there were no injuries and the fire was extinguished quickly.
When people are frightened, they often become unconsciously hyper-aware of certain senses like smell and taste, especially where there is a strong sensation such as the smell of fire/something burning. Upon smelling the same smell at a later date, the person can be re-triggered to have bad feelings. They sometimes don’t even realize the two are paired or where the bad feelings are coming from. It can be helpful to unconsciously re-pair new sensations to the memories of the event. This can be done by playing calming music softly while the person is talking about the event. You can also work the aromatherapy angle by introducing a pleasant scent while the person is talking about the event. You don’t have to explain to your child that you are doing this. Just do it. The brain works to create new pathways for the memory. So put a nice scent in your purse or in the kitchen drawer just in case.
All in all, it is a blessing that all were safe and the only loss appears to be beach grass and equipment use. I trust that there will be very few significant lasting negative emotional consequences of this event. Positively, families can use the experience to draw closer together and make it a learning experience for their family and one that will guide your child in safety ways as they grow up and start their own family. It is a good lesson for understanding the impact of a small spark.
Blessings to all of you for a safe and happy rest of the summer!
Tracy Lamperti, LMHC, BCETS
Psychotherapist, Educator, Consultant
Please welcome Alison Weiner. Ali will be joining Lamperti Counseling & Consultation for the summer as a Student Intern. In addition to being a high honors Psychology Major, Alison has studied abroad in Italy, raised over $5,000 for breast cancer awareness and worked with inmates in a high security prison. She brings skills of photo-journalism, computer systems, working with special needs, mentoring and children. We are very excited to have her for the summer!
No question about it…Family Movie Nights bring families together, and popcorn makes it really rock!
Popper, popcorn, spices, oil, popcorn cups and bowl, three DVDs pictured!
You won’t want to miss this one!
My son Noah was very close to his great grandparents. My mother took care of him while I worked and she also provided a lot of care for her parents, so he spent a lot of time with his greats. He was just a young toddler and I knew that one day he would experience the death of a loved one. Grandma was getting quite aged and I wondered how I would explain to someone so young about death when that day came. These two books, and others in the Little Blessings series became among our most loved bedtime books. They are darling books, in poem-like style and with inviting illustrations of a group of multicultural children.
The whole process had me asking my own questions about what I believed about death. Do I have a guardian angel? Does everyone go to heaven? Is my father in heaven? Will I see my father if he is in heaven? What is heaven like? It can be a wonderful thing to have to explain something to a child, when we ourselves have to dig deep for the answers.
I had identified myself as a “Christian” for most of my life, yet I didn’t even know the answers to these questions, that are pretty clearly outlined in the Holy Bible. The Little Blessings books tell the story and provide specific scriptural references at the end of the story to address the truths that are claimed on the pages.
Now, I realize, not everyone is a Christian and their are many theories about deep issues such as this. I have no interest in telling anyone what to believe. I just can say that I believe the scriptures in the Holy Bible. I am a student of the Bible, so I don’t claim to understand even the majority of it. Some things I understand and believe. Some things I don’t understand, but I trust. Some things I have no clue, but rely on my Father in Heaven to reveal to me in His perfect timing, AND my brothers and sisters in Christ to help me understand.
Back to my son…and my grandmother.
The day drew near that she would be passing to Heaven. There were very few questions from my toddler. There was the trust of a child who had learned about Heaven and that God would supply perfect peace if we would trust in Him.
So often, a parent brings a child for therapy with me who has experienced the loss of a loved one. The parent describes to me, “I don’t know…I just told him Grandpa’s in heaven. I didn’t really know what to say.” The child begins to ask a lot of questions and in everyone’s grief, words meant to be comforting are spoken; “You’ll see Grandpa again.” “Grandpa is looking down on you.” “Grandpa is your guardian angel.” Sometimes parents give the child a symbol or even a pendant with Grandpa’s ashes so that they can “hold on to Grandpa.” There are so many emotions during times of loss.
I encourage every parent to dig deep and really explore what they believe about death. From pets, to “road kill,” to strangers they hear about on the news, or any of the dozens or hundreds of people (even children) who die every year by tragedy, to Grandma or Grandpa, your children will experience death and they will have questions.
But I can’t leave without sharing the ending of the story of my son and his great grandmother. My mother had gone to be with my grandmother as she was dying. That night at bedtime, my son wasn’t coming when I called. I went to see what had caught his attention and he was sitting on the stairs. I asked him what he was doing and he said, “Great Grandma is dancing in heaven with a yellow dress.” It was just a sweet moment because of course, she was dying. When I talked to my mother the next morning and she told me at what time my grandmother died, it was right at the time that my son paused on the stairs. Great Grandma never wore a yellow dress that I knew of, and I’m not typically a person who thinks supernatural things are true, but though I tried, this one I could not deny.
One of my favorite verses, John 14:2-3 (NIV) My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.