Helping Children Cope After a Crisis:

Whenever a national tragedy occurs, such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters, children, like many people, may be confused or frightened. Most likely they will look to adults for information and guidance on how to react.  Parents and school personnel can help children cope first and foremost by establishing a sense of safety and security. As more information becomes available, adults can continue to help children work through their emotions and perhaps even use the process as a learning experience.

Tips for Parents and Teachers:

Our society has been plagued by a number of traumatic events in recent years—schoolyard shootings, the Oklahoma City bombing, floods and tornadoes, and the terrorist attacks of September 2001. When a large-scale tragedy occurs, it can cause strong and deeply felt reactions in adults and children. How adults express their emotions will influence the reactions of children and youth. Parents and teachers can help youngsters manage their feelings by both modeling healthy coping strategies themselves and closely monitoring their own emotional state and that of the children in their care. 

Common Reactions to Trauma

It is not uncommon to feel any or all of the following:

These reactions are often closely linked and can be difficult to separate, (e.g., where does grief end and outrage begin). Children, in particular, may have trouble understanding and talking about their feelings. Emotional reactions take place over a period of time and may not happen in any particular order. They can affect our behavior, our ability to function, and our overall sense of well-being. The intensity and ways we express our reactions will vary depending on our personal experience, general mental health, other stress factors in our lives, our coping style, our ability to self-monitor our emotional state, and our support network. This is true for both adults and children.  Children of all ages may need guidance and support from the significant adults in their lives (parents, teachers, coaches, etc.) as they work through their thoughts and emotional reactions to the event.

Anger: A Natural Reaction

For many people, adults and children alike, anger will be a natural extension of other emotions because it is a defensive mechanism that makes us feel more in control.  As well, anger with the perpetrators of these horrible acts is, in many ways, justified.  The desire to “retaliate” can be strong—but quite harmful if not redirected to a positive outlet.  In some situations, a significant factor in the expression of anger is the lack of a concrete “enemy” on which to focus our feelings. As long as there is doubt about the identity of the perpetrators and a lack of closure, or when the trauma is a natural disaster, anger and other strong emotions have no specific target. Such situations can lead to more inappropriate expressions.  Adults must ensure that children do not “take out” their anger in inappropriate ways, such as lashing out at classmates or neighbors who might be unfairly associated with the perpetrators of violence because of their ethnicity or other affiliations. The key is to direct anger and other strong emotions in socially and psychologically healthy ways.

Recognizing Anger

The first step in helping children manage their anger is getting your anger under control. Be aware of cues in your own behavior.  If necessary, ask someone you trust (a family member, friend or colleague) to give you feedback on your anger reaction. Observe the behavior of other adults around you and your child(ren) and be supportive if they show signs of increased anger. 

Signs of Anger in Adults

Signs of Anger in Children

Dealing with Anger

Some people have more problems than others dealing with anger. They either try to deny or ignore their feelings and keep them inside, or overreact and “blow-up.” These negative coping strategies can be physically and emotionally unhealthy.  Pretending we don’t feel badly can have long-term affects that may eventually cause us to “lose it.” Conversely, psychological research shows that acting out your anger will not relieve it, but instead will make it more intense. We can learn to control or diffuse anger by how we think about the event or people involved and by finding other ways to regain our sense of control and security. Anger can also mask other emotions, such as grief, loss, or fear.  It is important to address these related emotions as a way to deal with angry feelings.

Controlling Your Anger

Helping Children Control Anger:

Warning Signs of Serious Emotional Trauma:

While strong emotional reactions to tragic events are normal, most will fade over the following weeks and most children soon will be able to resume normal activities with minimal displays of anger or anxiety. However, if any of the following symptoms or behaviors continue beyond a few weeks, or if any of these symptoms are exhibited to such a degree that it severely impacts the child’s ability to participate in school or home activities, parents and teachers should seek mental health services for evaluation and possible treatment.

Parents and teachers can help children overcome traumatic effects of a tragedy or disaster and use the process as an opportunity to teach them how to cope more effectively and deal with new challenges. (Interestingly, the Chinese sign for “crisis” is two symbols – “Danger” and “Opportunity.”)  Depending on the scope of the event, the process may take time and patience and the willingness to reach out to friends, neighbors, and co-workers to lend mutual support.


----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------*Important for all adults to know:

Planning for the Future:

College Preparation in Middle School

In general, you don’t need to worry too much about college when you are in middle school. Parents who aggressively try to mold their 13-year-olds into Harvard material may do more harm than good.

Nevertheless, although your middle school grades and activities won't appear on your college application, you can use seventh and eighth grades to set yourself up to have the strongest record possible in high school. This list outlines some possible strategies.

1. Work on Good Study Habits

Middle school grades don't matter for college admissions, so this is a low-risk time to work on good time-management and study skills. Think about it -- if you don't learn how to be a good student until your junior year, you'll be haunted by those freshman and sophomore grades when you apply to college.


2. Explore Several Extracurricular Activities

When you apply to college, you should be able to demonstrate depth and leadership in one or two extracurricular areas. Use middle school to figure out what you most enjoy –- is it music, drama, government, church, juggling, business, athletics? By figuring out your true passions in middle school, you can better focus on developing leadership skills and expertise in high school.

3. Read a Lot

This advice is important for 7th through 12th grades. The more you read, the stronger your verbal, writing and critical thinking abilities will be. Reading beyond your homework will help you do well in high school, on the ACT and SAT, and in college. Whether you’re reading Harry Potter or Moby Dick, you’ll be improving your vocabulary, training your ear to recognize strong language, and introducing yourself to new ideas.

4. Work on Foreign Language Skills

Most competitive colleges want to see strength in a foreign language. The earlier you build those skills, the better. Also, the more years of a language you take, the better.

5. Take Challenging Courses

If you have options such as a math track that will eventually end in calculus, choose the ambitious route. When senior year rolls around, you will want to have taken the most challenging courses available at your school. The tracking for those courses often begins in middle school (or earlier). Position yourself so that you can take full advantage of whatever AP courses and upper-level math, science, and language courses your school offers.

6. Get Up to Speed

If you find that your skills in an area such as math or science aren't what they should be, middle school is a wise time to seek out extra help and tutoring. If you can improve your academic strengths in middle school, you'll be positioned to earn better grades when it really begins to matter -- in 9th grade.

7. Explore and Enjoy

Always keep in mind that your middle school record doesn't appear on your college application. You shouldn't stress about college in 7th or 8th grade. Your parents shouldn't stress about college either. This is not the time to be calling the admissions office at Yale. Instead, use these years to explore new things, discover what subjects and activities really excite you, and figure out any bad study habits you may have developed.


College/Career Planning Resources



Parents College Prep Guide

adapted from

By GreatSchools Staff

Most U.S. parents expect their kids to go to college, and most students have the same goal. But they are not necessarily taking the practical steps to get there.

A national survey released this year by Harris Interactive found that while 92% of seventh- and eighth-graders said they were likely to attend college, 68% said they had little or no information about which classes to take to prepare for it.

Counselors, colleges and organizations like the National Association for College Admission Counseling and ACT emphasize that parents should start planning for college no later than middle school. Their reasoning is simple:

College planning is important for all families, whether parents attended college or not. Rose Fabiszak, director of the College Board's program called College Ed, notes, "The college process has changed, even from four years ago - the forms have changed, there are Web sites where your child can take a virtual tour of a college."

Here are seven steps you can take to jumpstart your planning:

One: Talk about college

As a parent, your expectations have a huge influence on what your child expects of herself, even if she doesn't want you to know it. You can help her envision her future at a time when the social anxieties and opportunities of middle school loom larger than life after high school. This doesn't mean having an "I expect you to go to Harvard" conversation. Talk to your child about her interests, how they might translate into a college major and career.

There are resources on the Web to help you start exploring careers together with your child and get the conversation going.

It's not too early for you and your child to visit a college so she can begin to picture herself there. Fabiszak tells the story of her own daughter's early visits to an out-of-state college that sounded like a great match. It wasn't. The visit helped Fabiszak's daughter realize she wanted to stay closer to home, which she did, commuting to a college in her city.

"You have to find a place that's comfortable," Fabiszak said. "She changed her mind. Because we encouraged her early, she had a chance to see what fit."

Two: Make the school your partner

Middle school is the time parents tend to be less involved, but it's the very time your child needs encouragement and guidance. Meet your child's teachers, if you haven't already done so, and make it clear that you want to be kept up to date about any changes in your child's work or behavior. Go over your child's standardized test results with the counselor to identify strengths and weaknesses. Talk to the counselor about your child's interests to see if there are electives and extracurricular activities that will help him develop his talents. If your child needs extra help or more challenging assignments in a subject, talk to the counselor about how to arrange it.

"Be vocal about what your school needs," Fabiszak advises. "You should feel comfortable calling up the school to say 'I think my son needs extra help because he's failing math,' or 'Do you have more rigorous coursework for my daughter who's doing well in English?'"

Three: Get very involved in your child's choice of classes

The research is clear: Kids who take algebra by the eighth grade and geometry by ninth grade are much more likely to go to college than those who don't. These math classes are required to take more advanced math classes in high school and to take science classes like chemistry and physics. In addition to taking math every year in middle school, your child should take:

Because college work and many jobs now require computer skills, your child should also try to take advantage of any computer science classes offered in middle and high school. He'll gain new skills and may discover a career path.

Bottom line: Your child will need to satisfy more than the basic high school graduation requirements to be prepared to succeed in college. And he won't be prepared for college prep classes in high school unless he starts now.

Four: Get savvy about college costs

Experts emphasize that there are lots of ways to finance a college education, but you have to do your homework. Researching the way the system works, saving options such as 529 plans, and creative financing ideas will keep you from the last-minute panic that leads families to take out high-interest loans.

"You can find money for college," says Fabiszak. "It takes work and you need to start early."

There are also other cost-cutting measures you'll uncover: Your child can get college credits by taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school or in summer classes at your local community college. That can save you a year's tuition — but your child must be academically prepared to take advantage of these options.

Five: Encourage your child to read, read, read

It's simply the best preparation for the SAT, ACT or college reading assignments that your child can have.

While you're at it, why not make vocabulary building a family game by learning a word a day? There are lots of free subscription services that will email a word of the day, such one from . Your child can teach the daily word to the rest of the family at dinner and quiz you at the end of the week.

Six: Look ahead to high school

High school is the launch pad to college. How does yours measure up? Does the school offer AP or honors courses? These classes put students at an advantage when applying for college. Will your child have access to them? Can anyone take them or do the students have to have a certain grade-point average or be selected by their teachers? Are there electives and extracurricular activities that will motivate and engage your child? If not, do you have other school options? Or do you need to find community resources — music groups, sports clubs, tutors — to supplement what the school offers? Research your child's future high school now, contact the parent group and visit classes to help insure a successful high school experience for your child.

Seven: Don't wait to get your child help with study skills

Your child will need time-management, organizational and study skills to succeed in high school and college. It's easier to address these issues now than it will be when the work gets more challenging. Make sure your child has a quiet place to do homework and the necessary paper, pens and other materials close by. Help him get into a regular routine and monitor the results. If you need to, talk to your child's counselor about how to get extra help - after school, at a community center or in a tutoring program. Take a look at GreatSchools resources on study skills for more tips

Grief and Loss:

Developmental Phases in Understanding Death:

It is important to recognize that all children are unique in their understanding of death and dying. This understanding depends on their developmental level, cognitive skills, personality characteristics, religious or spiritual beliefs, teachings by parents and significant others, input from the media, and previous experiences with death. Nonetheless, there are some general considerations that will be helpful in understanding how children and adolescents experience and deal with death.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Expressions of Grief:

Talking to children about death must be geared to their developmental level, respectful of their cultural norms, and sensitive to their capacity to understand the situation. Children will be aware of the reactions of significant adults as they interpret and react to information about death and tragedy. In fact, for primary grade children, adult reactions will play an especially important role in shaping their perceptions of the situation. The range of reactions that children display in response to the death of significant others may include:

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Helping Children Cope:

The following tips will help teachers, parents, and other caregivers support children who have experienced the loss of parents, friends, or loved ones. Some of these recommendations come from Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado.


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Resources for Grieving and Traumatized Children:

At times of severe stress, such as the trauma of war or terrorist attacks, both children and adults need extra support. Children who are physically and emotionally closest to this tragedy may very well experience the most dramatic feelings of fear, anxiety and loss. They may have personally lost a loved one or know of friends and schoolmates  who have been devastated by these treacherous acts. Adults need to carefully observe these children for signs of traumatic stress, depression or even suicidal thinking, and seek professional help when necessary.

Resources to help you identify symptoms of severe stress and grief reactions are available at the National Association of School Psychologists website— 

See also:

For Caregivers:

For Children:


Local Resources:


Community VNA

Kid’s club children’s bereavement group

1-508-222-0188 ext 1370


1 Boston Medical Center Place

Boston, MA 02118 (link to pediatrics and Good Grief program)

Book:  Talking to Children About Loss, Maria Trozzi


Caritas Good Samaritan – 1-781-769-8282

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Tips for Children and Teens with Grieving Friends/Classmates:

Seeing a friend try to cope with a loss may scare or upset children who have had little or no experience with death and grieving. Following are some suggestions teachers and parents can provide to children and youth to deal with this “secondary” loss:


Particularly with younger children, it will be important to help clarify their understanding of death.  See tips above under “helping children cope.”

Seeing their classmates’ reactions to loss may bring about some fears of losing their own parents or siblings, particularly for students who have family in the military or other risk related professions. Children need reassurance from caregivers and teachers that their own families are safe. For children who have experienced their own loss (previous death of a parent, grandparent, sibling), observing the grief of a friend can bring back painful memories. These children are at greater risk for developing more serious stress reactions and should be given extra support as needed.

Children (and many adults) need help in communicating condolence or comfort messages. Provide children with age-appropriate guidance for supporting their peers. Help them decide what to say (e.g., “Steve, I am so sorry about your father. I know you will miss him very much. Let me know if I can help you with your paper route….”) and what to expect (see “expressions of grief” above).

Help children anticipate some changes in friends’ behavior. It is important that children understand that their grieving friends may act differently, may withdraw from their friends for a while, might seem angry or very sad, etc., but that this does not mean a lasting change in their relationship.

Explain to children that their “regular” friendship may be an important source of support for friends and classmates. Even normal social activities such as inviting a friend over to play, going to the park, playing sports, watching a movie, or a trip to the mall may offer a much needed distraction and sense of connection and normalcy.

Children need to have some options for providing support—it will help them deal with their fears and concerns if they have some concrete actions that they can take to help. Suggest making cards, drawings, helping with chores or homework, etc. Older teens might offer to help the family with some shopping, cleaning, errands, etc., or with babysitting for younger children.

Encourage children who are worried about a friend to talk to a caring adult. This can help alleviate their own concern or potential sense of responsibility for making their friend feel better. Children may also share important information about a friend who is at risk of more serious grief reactions.

Parents and teachers need to be alert to children in their care who may be reacting to a friend’s loss of a loved one. These children will need some extra support to help them deal with the sense of frustration and helplessness that many people are feeling at this time.

Local Resources:

Department of Mental Heath - DMH

-Provides clinical, rehabilitative and supportive services for children and

adolescents with serious mental illness or serious emotional disturbance.

Department of Children and Families - DCF 

-The Department's vision is to ensure the safety of children in a manner that

holds the best hope of nurturing a sustained, resilient network of

relationships to support the child's growth and development into adulthood.

Department of Developmental Services - DDS

-The Department is dedicated to creating, in partnership with others, innovative and 

genuine opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities to participate fully

 and meaningfully in, and contribute to, their communities as valued members.

*Also provides services to children who have an Autism Spectrum Diagnosis

This Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Waiver Program is a Medicaid

program designed to provide services to help children with autism to remain

in their homes and actively participate in their families and in their

communities.  This Waiver Program is designed to provide one-to-one

behavioral, social and communication based interventions through a service

called Expanded Habilitation, Education. The waiver will also provide related

support services such as community integration activities and respite. The

waiver will serve up to 80 children under the age of 9, with an autism

spectrum disorder, who meet the eligibility criteria for the Waiver Program.


Social Skills

Academy Metrowest

Fostering the overall development of children by creating an environment where they can be 

physically active, build self-confidence and develop social skills through cooperative and collaborative physical play.

Family Autism Center

Providing outreach, advocacy, education, and support to individuals, families 

and the community with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

789 Clapboardtree Street

Westwood, MA 02090

(781) 762-4001

fax (781) 461-5950

Family Village


ADHD Support


Families First

Family Links

Got Worries?

Student advice on dealing with feelings related to school, family,

friends, and other topics of interest:

For any immediate emergency: Call 911

Advocates Crisis Support:  1-800-640-5432

Ashland Youth and Family Services:   1-508-881-0140 x3

Call2talk 211 or text C2T to 741741

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  1-800-273-8255

See Something/Say Something anonymous reporting app

For help with access to food, contact the Ashland Food Pantry at