Grief and tragedy: Navigating the conversation with children

Jan 5, 2023, 7:53 PM

ENOCH, Utah — As a mobile crisis response team provides support to the community of Enoch following the murder-suicide of three adults and five children, there may be difficult conversations with children in your own home in the days ahead.

“I think the most important we can do is validate how hard this is, validate how we’re having these really overwhelming, sad, scared feelings, and really helping each other understand we can talk about it,” said Jenn Oxborrow, a licensed clinical social worker who works with families affected by violence and trauma.

Oxborrow said it’s OK for parents or caregivers not to know exactly what to say to a child when something so violent has occurred in their community – and to start by listening.

“I think sometimes we try to contextualize it, make sense of it for our kids, and maybe we talk too much, so I think listening more and talking less is really, really important.”

Oxborrow said what happened in Enoch is an abnormal situation, and children need to hear how their own family is safe.

“Reassuring them that in our house, this is how we provide for safety — we lock up our guns; we store things safely; someone’s having a hard time, we have safe people we can talk to.”

One free resource available for Utah families is the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition 24-Hour LINKLine: 1-800-897- LINK (5465). The UDVC provides confidential support for victims of domestic and partner violence. Those needing immediate mental health support have the option to call 988, a nationwide support line for mental health crisis and suicide prevention services.

“You may never know what happens, but making that report and letting somebody know that something feels a little off is really, really important,” Oxborrow said.

The licensed clinical social worker said tragedies like the one involving the Haight family in Enoch impact everyone, and now is the time to show up for each other.

“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, and you’re crying about this, it’s OK to let your kids see that it’s affecting you in this way. That’s honest, right, and then planning on how to have healthy conflict, find resources, and connect with people and just let people know that you care about them.”

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Grief and tragedy: Navigating the conversation with children