MADISON, Wis. - Twice in the span of two days small towns in the area have sustained tragedies involving young children.
On Wednesday an 11-year-old boy was shot in the head in rural Walworth County. Eric Gutierrez is now on life support and is brain dead. Thursday a farming accident in Lancaster claimed the life of a 9-year-old boy who has not yet been identified. The child was trapped in a grain bin.
"I've lived in small towns and I can imagine how it would create a sort of collective grief," said John Boyne, a counselor at Madison College and an expert in grief counseling.
Boyne believes that it is important for individuals and communities to grieve following events like the Walworth County shooting and the farm accident. He said by their very nature small towns may be better able to cope with deaths.
"People crave neighborhoods and neighbors, and I think small towns may be better equipped or at least have some advantage to deal with those sort of issues of social cohesion and helping each other out," Boyne said.
He said talking through the grief is important, and doing so with neighbors and friends is helpful.
Because the victims in tragedies like this are children, Boyne said it is natural for other children in the community to grieve the loss.
"They'll have grief or sadness and having them talk about that will help them work through it," Boyne said.
He said ignoring the loss and refusing to talk with a child about it sends children the wrong message.
"By ignoring it or diminishing their concerns and their fears it gives them a sense they are doing this alone," Boyne said.
He said it is important to engage your child in a conversation that is at an age-appropriate level. Also important is to make sure your child restores his or her sense of safety. Kids need to know that what happened to their friend or classmate will not necessarily happen to them.
"I think common sense is the thing. What is the natural risk? What is the likelihood of getting hurt in a farm accident or an accidental shooting? It is quite rare. Statistically speaking it is very rare," Boyne said. "So be grounded in the reality of those risks but also say, 'Boy, life is precious. Let's be careful."
While communicating with your child is important to the grieving process, Boyne cautions against unmonitored use by children of social media. The message a child may receive could be counterproductive to the grieving process.
"If there are rumors and innuendo that is inaccurate or unhelpful that could be doubly damaging," Boyne said.
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