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Workshop focuses on talking to children about tragedy

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 5, 2019

GROSSE POINTE PARK — As the community learned of last week’s devastating fire that killed Briggs Connolly, 11, and Logan Connolly, 9, the Family Center of Grosse Pointe and Harper Woods put together a program to help parents talk about the event with their children.

On the evening of Oct. 30, the Family Center held “How to Discuss Tragedy with Your Children” at the Ewald Branch of the Grosse Pointe Public Library.

Licensed social workers Amanda Be and Maureen McKinley Light discussed coping with tragedy and how to talk about it with children. The workshop was for adults, and about 20 people attended. Some were parents and some were other professionals who work with children.

In addition to the Grosse Pointe City fire Oct. 28, the Grosse Pointe Public School System community also is feeling the loss of South High School student Finn Huston, 15, who died last month from injuries he sustained after being struck by a car while riding a bicycle in Grosse Pointe City.

Be and McKinley Light started last week’s discussion by addressing how parents can have that first conversation with their children as they grieve.

“It’s kind of hard for everybody to process. We kind of helped give parents the words to use. We encouraged parents to have an open, honest and age-appropriate conversation with their children, and just listen,” Be said. “Parents should acknowledge their (children’s) feelings as being important and give them their space to have those feelings. There is no wrong way to feel. All children are going to cope in different ways.”

Be and McKinley Light also made sure to talk about the signs of anxiety or increased fear that children might have about fire. They might be asking, “What if I die in a fire?”

“We talked about expecting that some fear will be heightened,” Be said.

It was suggested that families create and practice fire safety plans in case a blaze occurs in the home.

Be also said some children might not show their feelings right away, but could start to have feelings one to two weeks after a tragedy happens.

“Depending on the age, sometimes your child might be fine for a couple of weeks and then there is a change,” Be said.

It’s also recommended not to push a child into sharing his or her feelings until they are ready. Just make sure to let your child know, “I’m here to listen to you if you ever want to talk about it,” Be said.

One avenue parents could try to get their children to talk is by doing an art project with them and asking them, “Why don’t you draw how you feel?”

“Drawing or art can sometimes help with an expression of feeling,” Be said. “That could spark some conversation.”

It’s OK for parents to seek additional help for their children if they feel that is necessary. And don’t stop having conversations with your children about tragic events.

“Check in even in the weeks to come,” Be said.

‘They’ll be in our prayers’
At the Oct. 28 Grosse Pointe Public School System’s Board of Education meeting, the school board began the meeting with a moment of silence to pay tribute to the Connolly brothers.

“I can’t get over the sadness about losing those two boys from Richard,” board Trustee Christopher Lee said. “They’ll be in our prayers.”

Board Treasurer Judy Gafa also shared her feelings at the board table.

“What an unfathomable tragedy this district faced this morning with the loss of two students. I think we need to pray for that family and our Richard family and our staff,” she said. “But I’m also going to ask the community to use grace and compassion when we deal with each other. There’s been a really divisive tone, and I think we can all see how life changes in the blink of an eye, and this could be any one of us. So I would just ask that we start using grace and compassion when we deal with one another, and keep everyone in their prayers.”  

At the meeting, district Superintendent Gary Niehaus thanked the district’s crisis team for its efforts in supporting staff and students. He also said that administrators communicated with Stephen Poloni, public safety director for both Grosse Pointe City and Grosse Pointe Park, throughout the day.

“Thoughts and prayers to the family and to our Richard staff, and to our administrative team for the outstanding job they’ve done in giving everyone the support they need to get through this,” Niehaus said.