(Guest post by Margie Bird, director of the American Psychological Association’s Disaster Response Network.)
News is breaking about a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. There is a lot that we don’t yet know about the incident. But there is no doubt that parents and children may be feeling worried or on edge, or are concerned about their own safety.
Don’t be afraid to talk about it
While a parent’s first instinct may be to shield their child from news and avoid talking about it, children will have questions and may be concerned. They need reassurance that someone is listening. Talking with children using age-appropriate language is the first step to help them feel safe and begin to cope with the events occurring around them.
What you talk about and how you say it does depend on their age, but all children need to be able to know you are there listening to them.
“Consider sharing your feelings about what happened in Connecticut with your child or teen at a level they can understand,” says Dr. Robin Gurwitch, a psychologist and researcher who has studied children and trauma. “Parents may express sadness, worry and empathy for the victims and their families. You may share some anxiety, but it is important for you to also share with your child or teen ideas for coping with difficult situations like this tragedy.”
Assure them that you are OK, and you are there for them.
Children will mirror how you respond
Children look to adults on how to behave and respond, she says. If you want your children to build resilience and find healthy ways to cope with their feelings, it’s important you do so.
“Your positive statements about the response by school personnel, law enforcement, and other first responders to help so many victims can help your child or teen see positive things in the midst of such a horrific event,” Dr. Gurwitch says.
How to help a child cope
APA worked with psychologists to develop a tip sheet for parents on how to help their children manage distress after a shooting.
Here are some highlights of those tips:
- Talk with your child.
- Keep home a safe place.
- Watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety.
- Take “news breaks.”
- Take care of yourself.
Other resources and tips
Here are other resources for adults and children that may be useful in helping children–and adults–work through feelings related to the shooting.
Disaster Distress Hotline SAMHSA.gov
Explaining the News to Our Kids CommonSenseMedia.org
The Connecticut School Shooting: How to Help Children Cope With Frightening News Child Mind Institute
The Road to Resilience APA.org
School Shootings: How to talk with kids about unthinkable tragedy ChildPsychMom.com
Talking With Children About the Connecticut School Shooting PsychologyToday.com
Margie Bird is the director of APA’s Disaster Response Network, a program for psychologists to help communities prepare for, respond to and recover from disaster. Read more about how psychologists help at disasters.
Photo by lindsayshaver (via Flickr)