By Rosalind Wiseman
Q. My 11-year-old nephew saw an Instagram post from his friend depicting a handful of pills and a note that she was going to kill herself. He woke up his mom, they called the girl's mom and her mother got her to the hospital in time. In the aftermath, my nephew is dealing with a lot of complicated feelings. How can I help him cope?
A. It's a hard truth that the children we love will face scary moments at some point in their lives. One reason is that they're often in a better position to know about a friend's mental health issues than parents are. But what kept this girl alive was your nephew reaching out to his mother, trusting that his concern would be taken seriously and that she'd know what to do.
The best resource to assist your nephew is The Whole- Brain Child, co-authored by Daniel Siegel, M.D. It offers a strategy for processing painful memories by engaging the left side of the brain (which likes logic) and the right (which cares about feelings). Siegel suggests an adult retell the event while the child pretends to hold a remote control so he can say "pause" or "fast forward" when he gets to a moment too painful to talk about. The adult can then proceed to the part where things turned out okay—in this case, when the girl got the help she needed. After reassuring the child with positive memories, the adult can "rewind" and help him process frightening ones.