The recent River Valley High School incident left us reeling in shock and sent the society questioning the whys and hows of a tragedy. As a parent, it was heartbreaking to see two teenagers’ lives lost – one physically and the other possibly shut away for the rest of his life. Many others in the school must have also been traumatised and emotionally scarred. My own children, who are in primary school, heard about the news from multiple sources – school, friends, family and they shared their fears of going to school.
How can we talk to our child about such tragedies and news that can be scary? How do we deal with their emotions?
Here are some ways you can speak with your child about tragedies and upsetting news.
How to Talk to Your Child About Tragedies and Upsetting News
1. Acknowledge Your Child’s Feelings and Help Process Their Emotions
Emotions are important. Don’t dismiss them. Acknowledge your child’s emotions and check in with them to ensure they have a channel to communicate these emotions.
Get down to the root of the emotions, and understand why the child is feeling that way. Could it be a fear of getting attacked? Could it be a fear of a classmate getting hurt? Could it be sadness resulting from a sense of helplessness?
Writing down the emotions also help. This helps the child to better communicate the feelings and parents can understand the range of emotions more comprehensively. Ensure that your role as a parent is always to provide a safe space and a listening ear to your child.
As adults, we might tend to refrain from sharing our feelings. It’s ok not to be ok. Let’s be vulnerable so that we can model the acknowledging of emotions for healthy emotional development. Sharing it from a parent’s perspective can also help the child understand that he or she is not alone in having such emotions. In this a truly heartbreaking incident, it is normal for us all to be shocked and emphathise with those who have experienced painful losses.
Empathy is something which is very much needed in a pandemic, when many have been facing battles of their own like mental health illnesses, loss of income, and more. Come together as a family to talk about all these issues, they can be precious for both learning, bonding and getting through it together.
3. Discuss Positive Ways to Overcome Stress
Times like these are teaching moments to reinforce certain actions and values in the family. For instance, stressful moments should be shared, and the family can discuss ways on how to manage the stressors. Including some downtime every day, for example by reading, sports or outdoor time, can help the child manage stressors better.
With increased pressure in school due to academic rigours, there should be an equal amount of leisure time included in schedules. Let your child have an outlet to release that stress by spending time on a hobby he or she enjoys.
4. Acknowledge that Things Happen Out of our Control
Your child might ask you questions that you are unable to answer. For instance “Why did the tragedy happen?” “How can it happen in school?” “Is school unsafe?” are questions you might have to respond to. There are many reasons to why tragedies happen and we cannot answer them all. Refrain from speculating or giving over simplistic answers. Life is complex and we will not have all the answers.
Also, don’t brush your children off even if their questions seem difficult to answer. These are good opportunities to emphasise that you are there for them, even if it is impossible to understand. Give them the reassurance they need that school is a safe place, as all teachers and staff care for the well-being of the children and that they are well protected.
5. Flagging issues around them
Children should also be encouraged to call for help when they see issues around them.
We told our children to always speak up whenever they see problems. Whether it’s a bullying incident, or a person who needs help, the teacher or any adult with authority should be informed.
Talk about scenarios in which children need help and ensure they know where to seek help. Ultimately parents should create a trusted relationships in which children can seek refuge in. If parents cannot be around at the instant, teachers and other caregivers should be contacted.
6. Carve out Time to Support the Community
Instead of circulating hearsay, gossip, rumours, how about adding some positivity by supporting the grieving community? Rope the children in whether it is to write, draw cards or pen a message on the online encouragement portal for RVHS. Connecting to the wider community helps us to empathise more, while processing those emotions and recognising the needs of others as well as our own.
7. Seek Help via these Helplines
There are many helplines available. Seek help early, share the helplines with your child these helplines so they can be aware of them, or even share them with friends who may confide in them.
- National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868
- Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service: eC2.sg
- Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222
- Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
- Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6385-3714
- Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788
- TOUCHline (Counselling): 1800-377-2252
- Care Corner Counselling Centre: 1800-353-5800
- Campus PSY email Campuspsymovement@gmail.com, DM via Facebook, Instagram or Tiktok
8. Hug them and say “I Love You” often
Sometimes, a hug is all they need. Hold them close and be thankful for their existence. There are grieving parents who do not have the opportunity to hug their child anymore. Our love for our children can be expressed freely and that is a blessing to count.
As part of the community of parents in Singapore, we are all still trying to come to terms with the tragedy that unfolded this week. Our hearts go out to the families affected and we stand in solidarity with all the students who have been impacted by the events that took place.