Talking to Kids about Tragic Events and Empathy

This is a guest post by Brittany Beck, the Healthy Youth-Healthy Communities Specialist (HY-HC) at Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JFCS) of Minneapolis. HY-HC is a preventative program for youth in grades 5 through college that addresses relationship, drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues. This is a program of JFCS of Minneapolis and Jewish Family Service of St. Paul. If you have a question you can contact Brittany directly at bbeck@jfcsmpls.org.

 Talking to Kids about Tragic Events and EmpathyGo online today – Facebook, Twitter, local news sites and even national ones – and you’ll see the story of Jack Jablonski, a 16-year-old Benilde-St. Margaret’s student and hockey player who was paralyzed during a JV hockey game last week.

The outpouring of emotion for Jack has been overwhelming: over a quarter of a million visits to his CaringBridge page; videos in tribute and support; high school hallways locally (and as far away as Louisiana and Massachusetts) a sea of white in his honor; over 50,000 “likes” for his Facebook page; and thousands of Facebook profiles sporting his number and the message, ”In Our Hearts.”

Along with support, you can sense the fear that this unexpected tragedy has caused. This past Thursday in Winona, a brawl broke out amongst hockey players after one boy was checked in the back, a hit similar to the one Jack suffered.

Whether or not people personally know this young man, a sudden, devastating accident like this exposes our vulnerabilities and makes us realize how quickly and unexpectedly life can change. It is important to remember that although we may have a plan for ourselves, that plan can change without warning. At times during our life we will all have to embrace something unexpected or tragic.

So how can families and children work through these intense emotions?

People of all ages can benefit from talking with friends, family or a professional about how they are feeling.

Parents of younger children may be surprised at how much their kids have already heard about Jack and his injury. They should talk openly and honestly with their child, who may be feeling confused or worried. All parents can use this as a teaching opportunity to talk to kids about how to support someone and show empathy during hard times. Many young people do not know how to react to someone who has just experienced a life-changing tragedy, so helping them find the right words and the right way to voice their sympathy is crucial.

The young people who wear white in Jack’s honor or are sporting the #13 on their Facebook profile have found a small but important way to show support for this young man.

If you are having a hard time dealing with Jack’s accident, or need help talking about this tragedy as a family, email Brittany Beck, Healthy Youth-Healthy Communities Specialist, at bbeck@jfcsmpls.org. She will help you find the resources you need, or connect you with someone at Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis.

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