This a post from January 2013
Dealing with Tragedy
We all are shocked by what has happened at the school in Connecticut. You and your children are asking questions and seeking answers that possibly will never come. Here are some helpful thoughts and recommended steps to take in dealing with this tragedy and the repercussions from it.
My first recommendation and this is based on what many in the mental health field are saying
Limit your and your family’s exposure to news media, TV.
Much of what needs to be learned and discussed has not been revealed and far too much speculation has been carried out in the name of news. Too many details and innuendo only adds to the anxiety this event has caused. Step away and let things settle before you form opinions.
Kids, especially older ones, will have questions. You do have the talk with them about it at some point.
Be ready to give reassurance and support. Let your children know that they are safe and you are there to keep them protected.
Here is a guide from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has advice tailored for kids of varying ages.
- Infants and toddlers
Keep the message simple. Reassure them, but don’t lie. Parents should console and comfort their children. Extra hugs help — for both the child and the parent. In addition, parents should maintain a normal routine. Weekend plans should stay in place.
Parents should emphasize the rarity of the event and limit television viewing. Images seen over and over give the impression that these events happen everywhere.
Grade school kids are smarter and more mature. Be honest, children this age can handle the facts, but don’t make the details too specific. Don’t be afraid to share your own concerns. But insure the child of their safety. The key is to tailor information to suit the age and maturity of the child.
For older children, their own emotional development can come to bear on how they make sense of the news. Some teens may reflexively say everything is OK, even when it’s not. Be aware of this and search for ways to bring out honest feelings. Give your child some time to think through their emotions.
- High School
For high-schoolers, you have to be upfront and candid. They may act out. They may be angry. Help them express their feelings in a healthy way that’s not all bottled up.
- Older Children
If you’ve got older kids, be with them when they are getting information about the shootings from the TV, radio or Internet. Let them ask questions and talk about the coverage. Don’t let them overdo either the talking or the media monitoring.
Be Aware of Possible Stress Symptoms
It is also important to watch for symptoms of grief in the weeks ahead. Younger children might experience stomachaches or headaches. They might stage tantrums or want to sleep with their parents.
Older children might have trouble concentrating or watch more television than usual. These are normal reactions. If they persist, or seem unusually intense, parents should speak to a counselor or their physician.
Parents should be moderate their reaction to the shooting because children often mirror the emotions of others.
Kids will be asking, “Why did this happen?” And the best we can say is that we might not ever know.”
Six “T’s” for Helping Kids through Trauma
- Togetherness. During tragic events kids need to have you close. They need to know they’re safe. Pull in together as a family. Pray together. Be together. The antidote to trauma is safe, loving relationships.
- Touch and Tenderness. Touch is an expression of affection that reinforces proximity and closeness. It produces a calming effect. Fear makes our minds race and wander, but tender touch dispels it. Hold a hand. Stroke your children’s hair. Let them sit in your lap. Wrap your arms around them. Kiss them. Be present emotionally. If they’re acting out a little bit with anger, rebellion or defiance, it very well could be a fear response. Be sensitive to their behavior.
- Talk. The questions will come: “Will a shooter come to my school?” “Why did he hurt those kids?” Be present, sensitive, and don’t offer pat answers. Engage them in age-appropriate discussion. Contrary to what many of us believe, talk doesn’t perpetuate anxiety—it helps to reduce it. Avoid graphic details, but don’t skirt around the issue. Become a safe place for them to bring their questions.
- Truth. Fears of the unknown can paralyze us. Anchor their hearts in truths like, “Not everyone in the world is bad. You’re safe now. God loves us and is close to us.” Remember, our kids absorb us. Your mood, thoughts, and actions directly influence theirs. These truths flow through you–Mom and/or Dad. Share the promises of God’s Word with your kids. Pray for, and with, them.
- Triggers. Someone screaming. A door slamming. A siren. What children experience or see on the news can deeply affect them. Don’t let your kids get overdosed with the news stories and all the gory details. This can lead to nightmares, excessive bouts of crying, deepening fear, and not wanting to attend school. Be attuned to your children. Don’t react to their emotions, respond lovingly.
- Time. Don’t rush or ignore this process. Keep your life as normal as possible. Sameness and routine reinforce the message of safety for your kids. Your family stability over time will help dispel their fears.
Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
American Association of Christian Counselors, Tim Clinton