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Grief and tragedy: How to navigate the conversation with children

Jan 5, 2023, 12:44 PM | Updated: 4:00 pm
In Enoch, Utah, parents throughout the community will likely be having a tough conversation with th...
Alecia Jones, right, with her daughter Brooklyn, 13, places a Mini Mouse stuffed animal by police tape near a home where eight members of a family were killed in Enoch, Iron County, on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. Brooklyn was friends with one of the victims. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)
(Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to grief, proper communication can leave a lasting impact on children and teens. How do we talk to them about tragedy in a way that both protects and prepares them?

In Enoch, Utah, parents throughout the community will likely be having a tough conversation with their kids about the recent deaths of eight members of their community, thought to be a case of murder-suicide. 

Parents may be deciding whether to shield their children from the unfortunate reality or prepare them for what they may hear in school hallways. 

Jenn Oxboro, a licensed social worker specializing in family trauma, told KSL NewsRadio’s Dave and Dujanovic that when parents don’t know what to say or do, they often do or say nothing.

“That can be confusing,” said Oxboro. “[Children] take on shame or guilt about asking questions.”

 

Kids cue on parents’ emotions and reactions. Because of this, Oxboro points out, it is OK to explain to them why parents don’t know what to say and that may create a safe space for a conversation. 

 Oxboro also advises telling your kids you hear their concerns and validate their sadness and fear.

“Being heard, being scene, been understood, is just so essential, especially in our hardest moments,” she said. 

Additionally, Oxboro said send a clear message how you work to keep your family safe. Rather than blaming another family, instead offer insight on how you and your family personally keep each other safe. 

Lastly, acknowledge that children are emotional thinkers and lots of topics are much more emotional for them. Instead of telling them not to worry, Oxboro said, first tell them you understand why they are worried.

Iron County School District grief resources

For those in the Iron County School District, communications foundation coordinator Shauna Lund said resources are available for teachers, students and families, including as a crisis-intervention team with trained counselors and social workers who are already familiar with the students.

Lund said teachers in the school district met this morning to discuss ways to help their students and what kind of support they can offer.

“Listening, connecting with student and checking in . . . ,” said Lund. “Just [letting them] know that someone cares about them.”

The school district is working with community members who have reached out to create a crisis-response team.

Finally, the Iron School District is making consolers available to answer questions students may have. 

If you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-TALK) or the Huntsman Mental Health Institute (1-801-583-2500).

If you or anyone you know is dealing with Domestic Violence and needs help, call 1-800-897-LINK or visit udvc.org

Grief counseling and support systems in Utah: ome.utah.org

We want to hear from you.

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