Saturday 24 August 2019

David Coleman: 'Talking won't protect our children from tragedy, but it will help them process it'

Schoolgirl Ana Kriegel
Schoolgirl Ana Kriegel
David Coleman

David Coleman

Almost every adult, most teenagers and lots of children will have heard about Ana Kriegel's murder and the shocking details that have emerged about the actions of the two young teenagers found guilty of killing her.

Many parents are now concerned over how to talk to their sons and daughters about this terrible tragedy.

Younger children are likely to have come across the news while in your company (on the radio in the car, or TV news) and so it is likely that you will have naturally just spoken about the case in simple terms, to try to put it in some context and to acknowledge what a dreadfully sad situation it is.

Teenagers, in many instances, will have absorbed the news independently of you. They may also feel "able" to deal with it.

They may not want to talk about the case, or to talk to you (preferring to discuss it with friends, for example).

We can't know what any child or teenager's emotional response to Ana's tragic murder is. We may not know how they feel about the boys that killed her. But what will be stark, for most young people, is the closeness in age to themselves.

These were, potentially, peers of theirs. We can assume they will have some strong feelings - and talking about those feelings is important.

We may worry that by opening up conversations we will precipitate some negative response (make a bad situation worse), but in truth all we do, by encouraging them to talk, is create a healthy and safe forum to express the thoughts and feelings that they are already likely to have.

So, whatever the circumstances in which you become aware that your children know about the case, by discussing their awareness and understanding of the details of it, we can also ensure that they have accurate information, rather than supposition, innuendo or misinformation. From there we can talk to them about the impact this is having on them.

So, start by checking facts and then try to explore and acknowledge any feeling (of worry, sadness, fear or whatever they express) that they may have.

Younger children may then just need reassurance that these kinds of tragedies are rare. Your own steady, considered, understanding response to them and the discussion of the case will be a model and guide for them in making sense of their own reactions.

Remind them that if they have more questions or discover new aspects of the case you are available to continue to talk about it.

With teenagers, we are best advised to simply show interest in their views and understanding, to try to open up conversations that may give us insights into what they think about the tragedy.

We may also want to try to contextualise the events of the case in terms of our family values about justice, morality, relationships, pornography, violence and so on.

Talking doesn't protect our children from tragedy.

But when they are already exposed to tragic events, talking will help them to process it.

David Coleman is a clinical psychologist and Adjunct Associate Professor at the School of Psychology in UCD

Irish Independent

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