PARENTS
04/10/2018 10:25 EDT | Updated 04/11/2018 20:33 EDT

How To Help Children Cope With The Trauma Of The Humboldt Broncos Bus Crash

There is no correct way to mourn.

KYMBER RAE via Getty Images
Flowers, cards and sentimental gifts adorn the ice surface at Humboldt Uniplex during preparations for a prayer vigil for the Humboldt Broncos ice hockey team, on Sunday.

UPDATE - April 11, 2018: Humboldt Broncos athletic therapist Dayna Brons died of her injuries in hospital, 5 days after the bus crash. She is the 16th fatality in the accident.

This weekend, Canadians were shocked and saddened by the news of the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash, which left 15 dead. The Saskatchewan community, and indeed our whole country, is mourning.

Many of our own kids play on hockey teams, or participate in team sports. Perhaps some of them even had to travel on a bus this weekend for a tournament. The similarities between the children who died, and our own children, make the emotional impact of this tragedy even more traumatizing for our kids.

How do parents, coaches, and teachers help our children cope with this tragedy? Here are some practical ways to help reduce the trauma, anxiety, and survivor guilt, and to help mourn.

Reduce media exposure

For the next few weeks, and even months, people will be posting pictures and sharing stories about the tragedy on social media. While that is one way to remember and heal, I recommend limiting your — and your kids' — time looking at traditional and social media.

Graphic images of the crash site are scary and can trigger nightmares and even feelings of guilt and secondary traumatic stress. Discuss with your kids how constantly following coverage of the event can be overwhelming and that they need to take breaks from the media.

Validate their feelings

There is no correct way to mourn. Some kids will be very teary and others won't, and this is OK. Don't assume that your crying child is being dramatic, or that your dry-eyed child is being callous. Let them know that — however they feel — it's OK and you are here for them if they need a hug.

For teenagers who may feel vulnerable sharing their feelings, you can share how you feel and ask them if they would hug you to make you feel better, as they may not ask for a hug themselves at this age. Tell them it's OK to take their time to grieve and that you're here for them whenever they feel like opening up.

Discuss and listen

Children and teens have different concerns than adults. Be sure to talk about events and listen to what your own child finds particularly difficult so you can help them process that part of the tragedy.

Reduce survivor guilt

Survivor guilt doesn't just affect those who survived the crash or any traumatic event. Anyone who asks the question, "Why them and not me?" is suffering with the thought that we are somehow lucky, while others are not — and we feel bad about that disparity.

In reality, our having been "lucky" did not cause others' "unluckiness." Survivor guilt can do some good; it can help spur us into making the world more fair and safe, and feeling guilty can distract us from grief.

POOL New / Reuters
A man wears a Humboldt Broncos shirt during a vigil at the Elgar Petersen Arena, home of the Humboldt Broncos, to honour the victims of the fatal bus accident.

But, as scary and painful as grief is, there is no way around it. At some point we have to mourn fully. To do so, the guilt must be addressed and released. The parents who loaded their children on the bus didn't know this was their future. If you or your child can't get over the survivor guilt, I would seek professional help from a counsellor to help you with the grieving process.

Calm their anxiety

After a tragedy such as this, it's normal for some children to experience anxiety. They may worry about their own family members dying, or be concerned that they have to travel on a bus and may be in a similar accident.

Parents can normalize this reaction. Try to stay calm yourself, allow your child to be extra clingy if they need to be, or, accept they may want to isolate themselves for a time.

Youth often turn to alcohol to cope, so parents should show them healthier coping strategies like meditation, deep breathing, exercising, talking to someone they trust, etc.

Take action

Sometimes we feel powerless when tragic events occur. One way to feel a sense of control after experiencing a random act of fate is to do something. After the bus accident, many adults took immediate action by donating to the Broncos' GoFundMe campaign.

Donations, however, may be too symbolic for children and youth. They are more likely to benefit from taking concrete actions.

Some people are placing a hockey stick on their front porch in tribute of the victims. Others are wearing the Broncos' green and yellow colours, and on April 12, Canadians will be wearing jerseys to show their support of the victims' families. Some families may light a candle and say a prayer at the dinner table, or even seek out pastoral support.

Schools, especially in the community of Humboldt and surrounding towns, may want to hold memorial assemblies. If so, it's important the schools correspond with the students' families, as some parents may want to attend with their child for additional support.

What is important is allowing youth and children to be expressive in a form that makes the most sense to them.

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