How do you tell your child their friend is gone?
HELPING your six-year-old deal with the grief when one of their friends has been killed in a tragic incident can be one of the most difficult things to confront any parent.
This is the dilemma facing many families from Casino and surrounds following Tuesday's tragic triple fatality at Dyraaba.
The answer, according to lecturer and researcher in psychology at Southern Cross University Coffs Harbour, Dr Jim Donnelly is talking to children about what they are thinking and feeling at a level they understand.
"The first step for children is to have the opportunity to talk about what happened and what it means to them," he said.
If a child is unable or unwilling to talk about their feelings, Dr Donnelly said parents should be compassionate, keep their children company and talk about what the incident means to them to encourage their child to talk.
"Often drawing, painting or storytelling can let children express their feelings."
Dr Donnelly said for many children it could be the first time in the child's life they had experienced significant loss, which can affect their sense of security.
To combat this, the best thing parents can do was ensure the same routine as before the incident is maintained to reinforce the child's sense of security.
Dr Donnelly signs of grief or loss in children can include anxiety, crying, and changes in behaviour, sleep or eating patterns.
After a loss due to a car crash children may be scared of travelling in a car.
"If a child has a phobic reaction where they really get upset the parents need to engage a psychologist."
"Reminding them how safe the world is, and the things that can be done to stay safe, shows how they can be in control."
Dr Donnelly said any parent struggling to cope with their child's grief should consult a psychologist.
Websites including headspace.org.au, bereavementcare.com.au and childhoodgrief.org.au include useful links and resources for parents dealing with childhood grief.