The circumstances of Sunday's tragic helicopter crash that killed basketball legend Kobe Bryant and eight other people were painful to comprehend. Beyond being an 18-time All-Star who lifted the NBA Championship trophy five times for his beloved Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant was 41 years old, a husband, and a father of four.
But that wasn't the worst of it. He was also the coach of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna's travel basketball team and was taking her, two other teenage girls, their parents, and another basketball coach from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, to a game in Thousand Oaks, a distance of 80 miles. All of them and the pilot died.
If this tragedy was shocking to adults, how about our kids? Millions of them also looked up to Bryant. They read The Wizenard Series of young adult novels he created. They watched his Oscar-winning short film Dear Basketball, which perfectly captured the way sports-loving kids feel about the basketballs, baseballs, and soccer balls that are the object of their obsessions and dreams. They saw him with Gianna courtside at basketball arenas, teaching her the game as so many of their parents taught them.
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Many children have heard this sad news and are upset about it. They may wonder whether the same could happen to them and their parents. If this is happening in your home, here are a few ways you can provide comfort and support.
Be available. If your children ask you questions, answer them simply and honestly. Validate their feelings, and share your own. It's okay for kids to see that you're surprised and sad. Just be careful not to overwhelm them.
Limit kids' exposure. Be mindful of how much they're watching about the accident on TV and social media.
Highlight the positive. Emphasize the outpouring of love that is happening and that this is how people are able to show they care during times of sadness. Show them the tributes that are taking place: the flowers and candles outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the basketballs left outside the Philadelphia high school where Bryant played, the Empire State Building lit up in purple and gold. Also discuss all the people who will be there for the families in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
Reassure them. Tell your kids that accidents like these are rare and that most helicopters and planes don't crash. They go through rigorous safety checks to prevent problems. Tell your kids that you're doing everything you can to keep them safe.
Provide extra affection. Hold your children tight and tell them you love them.
As difficult as tragedies like these can be for children, they provide an opportunity to discuss the real world in a reassuring way, set an example of empathy and compassion — and reinforce that there is nothing more important to you than your loved ones.
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