Is My Daddy Dead?

An injury or death has just occurred. It might be involve your officer or another member of the police family. Frightened and worried, you try to cope. Looking down into the small face staring back at you. What do you say?

In 1998, Phoenix Police Officer Greg Redmon was shot. The round ripped into his shoulder after his partner's bullet went through the windshield of a taxi cab, the perpetrator, and then another window. Officer Redmon survived. Right after the incident, an officer close to the family picked up the phone.

Denise Redmon remembers what happened when she answered, "He said, 'First off everything is ok. I just wanted to let you know that Greg was shot today. Do you want me to come over and help you tell the kids?'" Not wanting to interrupt the nine- and 13-year-olds at school, they agreed to meet later and take the girls out to dinner. As Denise hung up, an emotional weight bore down on her. She didn't have a problem handling the news. After all, Greg and she had been divorced several years and she was a police dispatcher. What she had never considered was what she would tell her daughters. "It was really awful. That was the more upsetting part for me. I wasn't upset about him being shot because it's always a possibility. You know so many people who have been shot and that they were okay and you know it's part of the job. I dreaded telling the kids. I was very fearful of their reaction."

During a quiet moment at dinner, Denise told the girls their father had been shot. Explaining he was all right, she asked if they wanted to go see him at the hospital. Both girls did. But, when Denise spoke with Greg, he discouraged the visit due to the distance. Neither child saw their father before the following weekend.

Denise's situation is not unique. Thousands of officers are injured or killed on duty every year. Many of these officers have children. Few officers or their spouses have been taught how to help their children deal with traumatic events. Much like adult family members, when an officer is killed, children of police officers become overwhelmed with fear. Questions such as, "Will my Daddy or Mommy be next?" or W"ho will take care of me if he or she is killed?" and "How can I protect him or her?" flow through their minds. Since most parents do not talk to their children the way they talk to each other, children are often left trying to cope with immense emotional turmoil with only bits and pieces of information. Add to that the horrifying images in the media, and an incident can take on enormous and unsettling proportions for a child. In her book Cops Don't Cry, Vali Stone states, "One of the greatest fears any child will suffer is that they might lose a parent...In a police family that fear may be more prominent. Watching television programs where officers spend the majority of their time killing people or being killed, listening to the news, reading the paper and listening to stories at home provide genuine reasons for feeling that fear." When an actual traumatic event occurs, these fears become reality. So, what can a police family do to minimize trauma? Many things.

"Children will respond to a critical incident, even if the incident was minor or happened to someone else. It's very common for kids whose parents have been only peripherally involved in a shooting to worry that their parent will get shot. They need to talk about their worries and be reassured," Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D. states in her book, I Love a Cop. The Red Cross suggests the following tips for talking with your children:

  • Listen to and accept children's feelings.
  • Give honest, simple, brief answers to their questions.
  • Make sure they understand your answers and the meaning you intend.
  • Use words or phrases that won't confuse a child or make the world more frightening.
  • Give your child an honest explanation if you are feeling so upset you don't want to talk about what happened. You may want to take "time out" and ask a trusted family friend to help.
  • Even if you feel the world is an unsafe place, you can reassure your child by saying, "The event is over. Now we'll do everything possible to stay safe, and together we can help things get back to normal."
  • Be especially loving and supportive; children need you at this time.
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