Paul Gilligan, chief executive of St Patrick’s University Hospital, Dublin, warned parents that their children will follow their lead in how they react to such tragedies.
“You need to say to children, in particular younger children, this is inexplicable. We don’t know what happened and we don’t know why it happened,” Mr Gilligan told RTÉ’s News at One.
“The security of starting a conversation like that gives, particularly children, a scope to be able to open up their conversation and express their fears,” he said.
“What you’re looking at now, it’s an impact right across the country, is fear. Children wonder how this could happen, why would this happen, there’s obviously question marks around exactly how secure the children were et cetera and who perpetrated this horrible act.
“Honesty is really important, we have to build children’s security, we have to look into our own reaction. Self-awareness is really important, parents often forget that children will take the lead from them. If they’re very upset, children will be very upset,” Mr Gilligan said.
“Opening a door and having the conversation, realising that in fact this story is being talked about in every family in the country and we need to confront it in our own families.
“The closer a child or a family are to these events, the more impact it is going to have. If you’re talking about families living in the Cavan area, they’re going to need to be really, very focussed on this,” he said.
Mr Gilligan said parents are “going to need to build up the child’s security” and believe that the child will have trust in them. “One of the things we forget very often is children have great resilience and they have great trust in their parents, in their carers,” he said.
“Now is the time to leverage that, to say ‘look, you’re safe. These things happen, they don’t happen very often, we don’t know why it happened, it’s very sad. Yes, it’s a very bad thing that happened, but for you, you are secure, you can ask me any questions you want and I will answer those.’
“If children are older we need to have a more sophisticated conversation, but they are the principles. I think at this stage it is about building trust and security and remembering that children have great resilience once we open a door, let them be honest and let them express their emotions primarily,” he said. n St Patrick’s Hospital has a support and information service which is available Monday to Friday with a voicemail and call-back facility. The helpline number is 01 249 3333.
Children and young people can contact Childline’s 24 hour phone service by phoning 1800 666666.
Text the word: ‘talk’ to 50101 (service available from 10pm to 4am)
: Available from 10am to 4am, live chat on Childline.ie
You will find various items of support and advice for children and parents on ispcc.ie and childline.ie