When terrible things happen…..go slowly

When terrible things happen…..go slowly 150 150 Jane Evans

When terrible things happen to a child, or that a child is aware of, such as the recent bombing in Manchester where children were killed in a suicide bombing, they need a few simple things from the adults around them.

  1. A sense of safety from seeing you are sad but not panicking and that life goes on – try to limit conversations around them that are frightening, ask yourself, “do they need to hear this?”
  2. A gentle presence rather than loads of talking and explaining – “I am trying to imagine any feelings you might have about…..” Pause. Try not to fear either, no, or a slow response.
  3. With gentle curiosity but no strongly held attachment by you to an outcome,“I’ve been feeling sad and confused and wonder if you might be too?”
  4. Be clear that you are there any time of the day or night to sit with them, hold them or talk
  5. Ensure you have emotional support so you can stay emotionally open and available
  6. Go slowly – children need you first as they know you and trust you. Later on they may or may not need therapy.
  7. Ask if they would like to think of a plan for if anything bad happens when they are with or without you. You could encourage then to use drawing, acting things out or making a short video on your phone – children often plan anyway and may have great ideas, or some that need tweaking or exploring with them.
  8. If something bad has happened, such as bereavement or a family break-up. Take small steps to gently explore what they need other people to know about how they feel. Also, what they do, or don’t they want others to say and do to them.
  9. Be alert by using your intuition to tune into your child, it will guide you really well, ‘gut instinct’ is a real asset when we feel we don’t know what to do.
  10. Trust yourself – slow everything down so you can fully tune into your child’s emotional state – bite-sized check-ins – don’t be afraid to use gentle humour, “Am I driving you nuts as I keep asking how you are feeling? Should I just chill out a bit?!!”

What my son taught me

From experiences with my own son, and in my professional life, I have learned that children show us when they need help through their behaviours. Test the water in a slow, patient way using drawing, acting things out or making a short video on your phone.

Pets can be so helpful too. Having conversations via the cat, dog, rabbit or hamster can be less pressure for a child. “Barney (the dog) said he’s feeling wobbly today even all the way down to the tip of his tail today. I wonder why?”

Remember, just like us, some children are ‘talkers’, others need more time, some respond well to a story, “A terrible thing happened” is a book  I have often used as it allows space for the child to have their input.

Finally, however they seem to be responding, it is always a good idea to pay more attention to offering simple body-based ways of addressing any anxiety and overwhelm they may be experiencing. You can do this by:

  1. Offering a foot, hand, shoulder or head rub
  2. Model some deep breathing into the lower part of the body – slowly in through the nose, sending air down to the stomach area, blow out as if blowing out a candle
  3. Show them that when we are getting stressed we can lie flat on the floor and breathe
  4. Lean flat against a wall and breathe
  5. Make time to be physically near them – hold them – show them how they can wrap their arms around themselves to help their body feel safer

Slow things down

  • Trust you are enough for now.
  • Be curious about feelings.
  • Support any need they may have to create a safety plan or to process things via drawing or acting things out.
  • Make sure YOU have someone who LISTENS to you and doesn’t try to advise or fix you.
Resources to help children feel less anxious:

Simple tip No. 1 to reduce anxiety

A Terrible Thing Happened

My story book, Little Meerkat’s Big Panic, helps children understand how the brain and body react when stressed and simple ways to feel calmer again.



Jane Evans

Jane is a ‘learn the hard way’ person. She has learnt from her personal experiences and her direct work with people who have often been in really bad places emotionally, relationally, practically and sometimes professionally.

All stories by: Jane Evans

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