Psychologist offers advice on speaking with children about sisters’ deaths

Vancouver Island child psychologist Dr. Jillian Roberts says children react differently to trauma

Oak Bay as a community seems to be taking healing steps in the wake of tragedy, according to a local psychologist.

Residents were stunned by the homicide of sisters Chloe Berry, 6, and Aubrey Berry, 4, who were discovered on Christmas Day in an Oak Bay apartment.

In light of the tragedy, community members are mourning, and coming together in vigil for the sisters – a step Dr. Jillian Roberts says is a natural and healthy response.

“I do believe that this is a healthy response from a close community,” said Roberts, a child psychologist and associate professor at the University of Victoria.

“The desire for the community to come together is a reflection of the closeness of this community. There is a great deal of healing through togetherness.”

Chloe attended Christ Church Cathedral School in Victoria and Aubrey was in St. Christopher’s Montessori in Oak Bay, leaving some parents the challenge of explaining a traumatic situation to children as young as three or four.

READ MORE: Here’s what we know about the killings of Chloe and Aubrey

READ MORE: Vigil planned for Saturday on Oak Bay beach

Roberts, author of the 2016 children’s book What Happens When a Loved One Dies? Our First Talk About Death, recommends:

“Create focused, distraction-free time to discuss this with your child. Use honest, but simple language to explain what has happened.

“If they ask questions, provide ‘just enough’ answers that answer the question without unnecessary detail. ‘I don’t know’ can be a fair answer. Focus on what happened, rather than how it happened.”

The community itself quickly embarked on the first step of healing to come together in friendship and fellowship.

“Listen to one another, hold one another and help wherever you can,” Roberts said. “Thank and support first responders. Honour the memory of those who have passed through conversation, writing, artwork – whatever helps you remember them and express your grief.”

In the past few days, residents had pulled together a food program for first responders and talked about how to respectfully aid the girls’ mother, Sarah Cotton.

“I believe we can expect to see a strengthening of our community as a result of this tragedy. We will come closer together,” Roberts said.

Roberts, also author of the critically acclaimed “Just Enough” book series for children and the creator of the “Key Facts of Life” app, has also published numerous scholarly articles and given presentations on educational and health psychology around the world.

She noted that each individual, adult or child responds differently.

“Your child may have a lot of questions immediately, or none at all. They may need time to process and then come to you with questions later. Reinforce to your children that they are safe and loved and what happened was a rare, isolated incident,” she said.

This situation means we must make time for each other and be gentle and patient with each other, she suggested.

”If you are upset by what has happened, it’s okay to show your emotions. Honour your emotional experience so you give your child permission to do the same.

“You can let them know that you are sad. But if you are deeply upset you may need help from others to support you and your child.”

editor@oakbaynews.com

 

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