This article was orignally published in the Irish Times on Tuesday 18th June by Trish Murphy Its being republished here as there is an increased level of news reporting on Ana’s case – expected after the sentencing next week.
There really is no right way of tackling this but being open will offer children option of working through their feelings
Ana Kriégel who was 14 when she was murdered in May 2018.
The most prevalent responses for parents in the wake of the recent trial, arising from the death of Ana Kriégel, is a sense of fear and desire to protect: fear for their children that such appalling things can happen and a huge urge to protect their children from even knowing that such tragedies can occur so close to home.
The danger here is that this fear can lead to a shut-down of all access to coverage of this case, and to all discussion, so as not to exacerbate any anxiety or upset. However, this teaches children that they must not talk about the case as they, in turn, do not want to cause their parents any upset.
In this way we practice love through protection and worry. As we know, this continues right into adulthood when adult children often do not tell their parents of their separations, loss of jobs or illness in the belief that it would hurt them.
Any parent will tell you that this is not the case, that in fact they want to know everything so that they can support and guide their offspring during difficult times.
If we are to break this pattern, we need to start now. Most children are on social media to some extent and will have access to information about the case and are probably discussing it with their friends. They need to hear their parents, or close adults, discussing their feelings so that they too can express their own confused feelings about what has happened.
As parents, we do not need to have exact answers to all the issues our children face, but we do need to show that all of us have fears, anxieties and doubts that can be expressed, discussed and let go of.
It is natural to be protective but going silent or using code in front of children will not be useful for them. They will feel safe if they know that the adult in their lives can have strong reactions to difficult situations but is able to process them.
Talking at or to children is probably not the best tactic. The child often feels cornered and will do whatever they can to get away from the claustrophobic situation.
Depending on the age of the child, good conversations can be had where there is not direct eye contact eg. in the car, out for a walk or in front of the TV when the day has settled. Asking a general question about the situation, or one where the child does not feel directly targeted, is often a useful way to start: ask them how their friends are handling it or what they think other kids might be feeling – this will allow them to talk about feelings in a way that allows them wriggle room.
Do not force a discussion but return to it a number of times so that the child knows that they can speak when they are ready, eg. they might say ‘you know that thing you were talking about …’.
There really is no right way of tackling this but being open about your own feelings (through talking with another adult in the kitchen or within hearing of children) and demonstrating that the topic is of concern to you will offer children of all ages the option of working through their feelings and concerns.
Trish Murphy is a psychotherapist and Irish Times columnist