Expert helps parents navigate explaining tragedy to kids

- Hurricane Irma was an unsettling event for Florida residents.

Preparing hurricane kits, evacuating homes and the uncertainty of what was to come was stressful on families, especially for parents who had to provide a calm before the storm for their children.

With disasters of all kinds making news across the country, parents are sometimes left wondering how to speak to children about these events.

"The main point is to reassure them and to really give your child a sense of security,” explains clinical psychologist and mom, Dr. Ashley Vigil-Otero.

She helps other parents navigate the stresses, sorrow, and anxiety their children experience during difficult times.

One of the most common obstacles of family life is coping with divorce.

"You can really directly state, 'This is not your fault.' You can also explain that sometimes you don't know why an event occurred and sometimes difficult things happen,” says Dr. Vigil-Otero.

She says it’s important to prepare before addressing a topic.

Prior the conversation, brainstorm and then practice what you are going to say. You should get some key points and go over them. Also, make sure to answer any questions they may have.

There is also the difficulty of separation, such as when a military parent is deployed.

"Keeping in touch with family members, even if they can't always necessarily pick up the phone or Skype, to make sure there's opportunities to write letters. Make sure they have that line of communication with the parent that's away, so that they can express those feelings," Vigil-Otero says.

There is also the most heartbreaking circumstance, the death of a parent.

"Maybe you could write a letter, draw a picture, get out some of those unanswered questions in an activity with your child. That's a way to help them grieve or mourn," Dr. Vigil-Otero says, adding children might be prone to cling to their surviving parent a little harder and could need extra attention.

It is also important for parents to show their feelings, too. 

"The reality is, you don't want to panic in front of your child, but it is okay to display emotions. If there is something that is truly tragic, and you are having tears and some of your own grief, it's okay to let your child see that. It is actually encouraged. You don't want to mask how you're really feeling," Dr. Vigil-Otero explained.

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