Talking With Children About Tragedy

In light of the recent horrific shooting in Las Vegas, we would like to take some time to address how we can talk to youth about unexpected tragedy. This can often be a difficult topic for adults who may be overwhelmed themselves emotionally, and who may also be unsure how to tackle such conversations at an age-appropriate level.

According to Yasmine Awais, Assistant Clinical Professor with Drexel University, avoiding such a discussion is not useful. “For a young child, it may not be necessary to broach the topic directly but to answer any questions they have if it comes up. Another approach is to ask your child what they talked about or heard in school today, whether they discussed current events.”

At NOVA, we acknowledge that there are no easy answers to having such discussions, but we can offer you the following articles that can help to get you started:


sexual assault and college campuses.

Despite the drop in sexual assaults in the United States over the past twenty years, sexual assault near college campuses still remains a prevalent issue today. As a current student at West Chester University, too many times I’d receive an alert from campus security informing me of this tragedy.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, college women ages 18-24 are three times as likely to be victims of sexual assault, with 23.1% of undergraduate females experiencing sexual assault by means of physical assault, violence, or incapacitation. Of these victims, it is believed only 20% report these incidents to law enforcement. To think that institutions of higher learning can be so corrupted by these shameful acts is despicable and unacceptable.

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However, there is hope. An increase of campus security in the past decade, as well as the advancements in technology have led to faster response time. Reinterpretation of Title IX under the Education Amendments of 1972 during the Obama administration has brought the issue of sexual assault on college campuses to the forefront of agendas of universities across the country. I know that my own school’s Student Health Services offer extensive sexual assault care, including non-forensic exams and counseling.

Unfortunately, sexual assault isn’t a problem that can simply disappear. But through education and easier access to emergency services, college campuses can be a place where students feel like they truly have a second home.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault or any other form of abuse or harassment, you can contact the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) at 1-800-656- 4673 or the Network of Victim Assistance 24-Hour hotline at 1-800-675-6900.

–Ted Carroll, NOVA Intern

Head, shoulders, knees, toes, and private parts.

Capture _ Kim's blog postHere at the Bucks County Children’s Advocacy Center, a program of NOVA, we hear lots of interesting names for male and female private parts.  To share a few names for female parts we have: “front butt”, “no-no spot”, “birds nest”, “purse”, “cookie”, “peach”, and “toe-toe”.  For male parts we have heard: “pecker”, “special thumb”, “undercarriage”, “wee-wee”, and “tummy tail”.  I’ll even include a story from my childhood.  When I was little the penis was referred to as a “peter.”  Even to this day, I giggle on the inside when I meet a man named Peter.

When children visit the Bucks County Children’s Advocacy Center they are here because there are allegations of physical abuse, sexual abuse and/or neglect.   The child is interviewed as part of the investigation into such allegations.  The process of determining whether or not a child has experienced abuse goes much easier for children who know the proper names of their body parts.  When they don’t, the parents and professionals have to guess at what the child is talking about.  Let me share an example with you.  A little girl told her teacher several times that her uncle was “eating her cookie.”  The teacher made comments such as, “Oh that’s not nice” and “He should get his own cookies.”  It came out later that her uncle was sexually assaulting her “cookie”, AKA vagina.  (Although that in itself is not the correct body part.  The outside is the vulva. The inside is the vagina. #Biology)

This sad story clearly illustrates the need for our children to learn the correct, anatomical names for their private parts.  If that little girl had said her uncle was touching her vagina, there is a good chance that intervention would have come sooner. Maybe her abuse would have stopped sooner.

For many of us, using the anatomical names for private parts can be awkward, embarrassing, and anxiety provoking.  Maybe we have grown up with the same messages of shame and secrecy about our bodies. If you can’t bring yourself to use “penis”, “anus”, “vulva” or “vagina”, come up with words that are as close to the correct name as possible and are NOT food related.  For example, “pee-pee” is a term that is widely used and is very often readily identified as a private part.   If you can bring yourself to use the anatomical names, all the better.

When adults can’t talk about private parts, children learn to see these parts of their bodies as shameful, dirty, secretive.  There is a difference between private and secretive.  Offenders have an easier time offending when children are ashamed of their bodies, think that private parts are not to be discussed, or do not have the right words to describe what has happened to them.  If children are confident and knowledgeable about their bodies are more likely to disclosing if someone touches them inappropriately.  If they do disclose, they use words that are clear and more helpful to adults who want to make sure they are safe.

Capture _ Kim's blog post 2Resources to help talk with your child about their bodies include:

  • Amazing You! Getting Smart about Your Private Parts. By Gail Saltz
    • A great book for young children who are curious about their bodies but are not ready to learn about sexual intercourse. Discusses the difference between girls’ and boys’ bodies in an age-appropriate manner.
    • Recommended for children ages 4+
    • Available on and in bookstores
  • Those are MY Private Parts. By Diane Hansen
    • In 12 pages of rhyme, this book informs children of tactics that perpetrators may use on young kids while teaching them age-appropriate safety and refusal skills. This sing-songy book discusses important topics in a very non-threatening way.
    • Recommended for children ages 3+
    • Available on; Spanish version available; also made for Kindle
  • Who Has What?: All About Girls’ Bodies and Boys’ Bodies (Let’s Talk about You and Me). By Robie H. Harris
    • Young children are curious about almost everything. Asking questions is one of many ways they learn about themselves and the world around them. Now, this unique series for our youngest children provides easy-to-understand facts and answers to their delightful, thoughtful, and often nonstop questions. Launching the series is WHO HAS WHAT?, a simple story following Nellie and Gus on a family outing to the beach. Humorous illustrations, conversations between the siblings, and a clear text all reassure young kids that whether they have a girl’s body or a boy’s, their bodies are perfectly normal, healthy, and wonderful.
    • Recommended for children 3-7
    • Available on



Mental Illness and Violence

Did you know…
• It is more likely that people with a major mental illness will be the victim of violence, rather than the perpetrator.
• You are more likely to the be victim of a violent incident perpetrated by somebody you know, than to be the victim of a violent incident perpetrated by a random person.
• According to a recent study, the frequency of violence among non-substance abusing people with a major mental illness was no different from non-substance abusing people without a mental illness.
• A recent study of criminal victimization of people with severe mental illness showed that 8.2% were criminally victimized over a four-month period, which is much higher than the annual rate of violent victimization of 3.1% for the general population.




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When a violent community event occurs, there is a general public perception of the stigma linking violence with mental illness. That false perception acts as validation for bullying or victimizing people with a mental illness. People who have a history of mental illness, do not necessarily have a history of violence, and vice versa. The above facts come from a variety of studies conducted across the United States. The correlation between being a violent offender and having a mental illness is low. People with a mental illness are more likely to be the victim of an attack by a violent offender, than to be the violent offender themselves. The negative association with being a violent offender and having mental illness can end. As a community, we can spread knowledge and awareness of this stigma, and help others to be aware that when a violent event occurs, the perpetrator does not necessarily have a serious mental illness.

If you or someone you know is a victim of a crime in Bucks County and are seeking legal advocacy or counseling, please contact our 24-hour hotline at 1-800-675-6900. You may also visit our website for more information-


Community trauma and self-care.

If you’re like most people, your life has been affected by community violence.  Perhaps you live in a community or neighborhood you thought was safe until a terrible event took place that shocked the whole community.  Maybe a tragic car accident took the lives of a group of teens from your local high school. Perhaps you read a news article or heard about a young person who committed suicide after being bullied at school or maybe you knew one of the victims, or knew one of the families who recently lost a loved one in the Bucks County shootings of last month.  When a community is struck by a tragedy like these, the impact is wide spread and felt by our “collective nervous system.”1 We may find ourselves feeling unsafe, on the alert, or overwhelmed and helpless.  Many people find it hard to resist news of traumatic events.  As awful as it is to watch or read about it, we still find it hard to turn away.  This may be an effort to help prepare ourselves and keep our loved ones safe. Or it may be an attempt to understand and emotionally process an event that impacts us deeply.  In either case, it’s important to understand that there is a correlation between exposure to traumatic events and stress-related symptoms.2

The cost of unresolved trauma to society is difficult to calculate, but experts agree that the cost is high. Trauma has been correlated to physical and mental illness; learning disabilities; addictions; deviant or aggressive behavior; polarization of belief systems; racial, ethnic and religious intolerance and violence in individuals, in schools and communities, between groups and even between nations.3

So what do we do?  Here are some things to keep in mind, and some practical steps you can take:

  • Trauma is treatable. If you or someone you know is feeling anxious, fearful, or unsafe, there are trauma-focused counselors who can help.
  • Trauma impacts our mind and our body. Resolving trauma happens best when both your mind and your body are engaged.

Some actions you may want to consider:

  • Keep reminding yourself that your responses are normal responses to a stressful situation. Give yourself permission to do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. Your body and mind will tell you what you need to do—your job is to listen to them, so:
  • Get plenty of rest when you’re tired.
  • Allow yourself to cry, rage, and express your feelings when you need to. Try not to numb your feelings with alcohol or drugs.
  • Limit the amount or type of news you watch if you notice that it makes you feel stressed or anxious.
  • Don’t watch the news just before going to bed.
  • Talk with your children and teens about what they are seeing and hearing. Invite them to ask questions. Help them to express their fears and feelings so that you can discuss this with them.
  • Join an exercise class or a Yoga class.
  • Start a discussion group at your church, synagogue, or mosque. Explore ideas and ways you can promote healing, understanding, and trust within your community.
  • Spend time with others, even if you don’t feel like talking. It can be very comforting to know you’re not alone. Try to find someone or someplace that feels safe and comforting to you, and spend time there.
  • Do things that feel good to you—take baths, read, exercise, go to the movies, spend time with friends and family, fix yourself a special treat, or whatever else helps you.




Invisible Super Heroes

Children dream of being Superman, Spiderman, or even Ironman. All visible superheroes in their fictional worlds. Not as many children want to be Kitty from X-men or the Invisible Girl from Fantastic Four. However, they are just as important to the plot line as the main heroes.

That is how I thMichelle's blog picink of the Keystone Crisis Intervention Team, fondly known as KCIT (Pronounced K-KIT). KCIT is a Pennsylvania statewide program of trained volunteers throughout the state that respond to communities after a criminal crisis. There is no crime too big or too small for us to be called to.  However, there is no Bat signal for a community to throw up in the sky; we have a hotline (1-855-SOS-KCIT) which is just as effective, but not as visible to the community at large.

Volunteers swoop in quietly; there is no bravado. They are there to provide safety and security to those who chose to attend the Group Crisis Intervention.  Participants can vent and be validated in their reactions to what happened, as well gain a sense of prediction for the future. Once completed, volunteers swoop out just as quietly.

Unlike many superheroes, we leave the community with a sense of hope and resources for the future (am I the only one who thinks about who has to pay for the cleanup?  For example, in The Avengers,  the alien who fell on top of the building… who is responsible for the disposal of that body?). The Project Coordinator follows up a few times to see how the community is doing.

Trainings can be offered to the caregivers of the community. Superheroes and non-super heroes (aka those without magical powers or suits) also experience trauma.  They are seeing and hearing the horrible things, but who takes care of them?  KCIT can help with a training called Self-Care for Caregivers.  This course teaches caregivers practical coping skills that can be used in the field.

So, in times of criminal crisis, who ya gonna call? KCIT!  Let KCIT help your community assess the impact, provide crisis intervention, and follow up training.

If you are interested in finding out more, contact KCIT at

How we talk to our children about 13RW

As an educator at an organization that deals largely with the crimes of rape and sexual assault, I’ve been hearing a lot from the students I come into contact with about the new-ish Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. For those of you who have not seen it here’s a little synopsis (spoilers ahead):

A high school student, Clay Jensen, comes home from school one day to find a mysterious package; inside it, he finds 13 cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate and potential love interest, who took her own life two weeks prior. In each tape, Hannah tells, in her own voice, the thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life, each one revolving around an incident with a fellow classmate or adult in her life. In listening, Clay bears witness to Hannah’s pain, to the crimes she suffered at the hands of fellow students, and to the final, painful-to-watch session with their school guidance counselor where she decided to give life “one last try” – and made the final decision that hers was not worth living.

It is a well-made series. It is evocative, compelling… and it is heart breaking.

It is also a nationwide phenomenon with children as young as 5th grade viewing it, in my own experience.

“But it starts the conversations about bullying and teenage suicide!” “But it romanticizes the suicide of a young girl!” The arguments for and against the show rage on and on amidst rumors that a second season is in the works.

But perhaps we are missing the point amidst all this arguing about whether or not it’s appropriate for children and teens to watch it. Perhaps we should be discussing how to talk responsibly to our children and teens about these issues, regardless of whether we permit our youngest members of society to view the series. Perhaps we need to reframe the way we look at and talk about bullying and consent and sexual assault and – maybe most importantly – how to ask for help when help is needed.

Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. As I previously mentioned, I am an educator. So while I cannot claim to be a mental health expert, I can say, as a person concerned with the well-being of all, especially our youth, that if we hold off on having these conversations with our children and teens, we run the risk of waiting too long. If we hold off, we run the risk of our silence telling them that these are issues they need to deal with on their own.

Which is why at NOVA, we encourage parents to discuss consent with their children at a young age through instruction about body boundaries. We have programs that are not only about anti-bullying, but which also build empathy for victims and teach children to be concerned and active upstanders. We teach children and teens that if they are hurt on purpose, if they are victimized in any way, that it is never their fault. We teach them to reach out. We teach them to ask for help. We teach them to tell someone when they are hurt until someone believes them. We tell them who we are as an organization and that we are here for them.

Not every child lives in a county that has an organization like NOVA. But what every child does have is at least one adult who cares for their well-being. A parent or guardian, a big brother or sister, an aunt or an uncle, a neighbor, a doctor or nurse, and so on. School-aged children have teachers, coaches, principals, guidance counselors and school psychologists, school nurses, babysitters, and so on. That person may look different to each child, but nevertheless, we – as a community – need to talk to them about these sorts of issues.

And, we need to listen too. We need to ask them if they have watched or heard about this show. What do they think? Ask if what were the points where someone could have intervened in Hannah Baker’s struggle – provoke their critical thinking skills. Ask them what their understanding of consent is. Who are their trusted adults whom they can go to if they are hurt? Let the child or teen lead the conversation, listen, and then fill in the education pieces as needed.

Because the truth is, people are hurt on purpose every day. Some people hurt themselves. Some people do take their own lives – and sometimes those people are teenagers, like Hannah Baker in 13 Reasons Why. If more help is needed, know that there are resources available. A simple google search results in an overflow of viewing tools and precautionary tips meant to aid in responsible viewing of the show and follow-up discussions that are even more in-depth than those discussed here in this blog.