YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – People are already calling grief counselor Dr. Deirdre Petrich for advice on talking to their children following the death of six teens in a car crash in Warren on Sunday.
Six teens died and two survived after the car they were riding in crashed a guard rail and flipped over, landing upside down in a pond near Pine Street at about 7 a.m. Sunday.
She says parents and other adults should first know that teens don't deal with grief the same way adults do. Her simplest advice to adults when tragedy occurs: just be there.
Petrich, clinic director at PsyCare, suggests that before talking to kids, adults should listen first.
Ask kids what they are feeling and don't rush in with words of advice, she says.
According to some developmental theory, some children don't display grief right away because their brains are still developing and they may not understand the permanent nature of death.
Petrich has noticed kids often refer to the deceased in the present tense and says it's okay not to correct them.
She has also noticed, adolescents often live in extremes so, she says, if they don't seem like they are reacting to a tragic death, or if their reaction is one of extreme duress, it's not necessarily serious.
She says parents should determine a baseline understanding of how their child acts and use that baseline during a crisis or tragedy to help determine what behavior is not typical. Serious changes in eating and sleeping habits and a lack of motivation could be signs a child needs professional help, she says.
Petrich also suggests providing a journal to write down feelings. She says even a simple trip for ice cream with no talk about the tragedy can help teens begin to process their feelings.
As for the larger community of Warren still in shock over the death of the six teenagers, Petrich says it's a classic case of it takes a village to tend to a community that is suffering. She says calls to her office have included questions about what people can do to help the Warren community heal from the tragedy.
Petrich says the young friends of the six crash victims will have tough days ahead as they likely attend more than one funeral of a friend.
Her best advice to parents: "Meet the teens where they are and listen to what they are saying."
Counselors are being brought in at Williard Elementary and Harding High School to help students cope with the sudden loss of their classmates.