Chaos and Trauma:
Helping children feel safe in a frightening world.

By Donna Gaffney | May 20, 2013

To the victims, athletes, families and people of Boston, to the workers, families and citizens of West, Texas, and to the community of Moore, Oklahoma, we offer our most sincere sympathies. We stand with you and your communities as you heal and recover from these tragedies.

It is crucial to help children, teachers and families find a language of comfort while safely talking about these tragic events in age appropriate ways.

Even in the midst of the aftermath, those early hours and days of continually unfolding events, we can find inspiration and hope. This is the most important message we can offer our children. Although it is human nature to look for answers and ask why and how, we all need to remember the good that emerges during difficult times.

As Fred (Mister) Rogers reminded us, there are always people who care and help. We must all, young and old, "look for the helpers".

Not too long ago we posted a similar message after the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Acts of violence and disaster have ripple effects, beginning with those who are most affected and extending in ever widening ripples across the country.

Traumatic events and natural disasters can trigger fears and anxieties, perhaps reminding us of earlier frightening experiences. Here are some recommendations for teachers and for parents:

  • Provide calm and comfort and minimize media exposure (keep misinformation and speculation to a minimum).
  • Recognize how reminders (images, breaking news, rescue efforts, heightened security) affect us, take a breath and say to yourself, "I am feeling this way because this is a reminder. I am safe, it is not happening again."
  • Practice your best self care strategies- friends and family, music, books, meditation and look for things that "ground"....a walk in the park, gardening, cooking and sharing a meal with those who mean so much to you.

But remember the helpers and tell your students and children their stories.

These actions of compassion and courage, commemoration and comfort are the ultimate teachable moments. They provide immunity against feelings of despair and powerlessness.

Please use the guidelines, articles and suggestions for lessons and learning activities (see PDF below). We have added a bibliography of children’s books and other guides to assist teachers and families. If you have suggestions and activities of your own, please share them with us. You can email us at the For Action Initiative,

Here are two articles that may be helpful:

To download the PDF, click here.