In response to a school shooting or tragedy, many children have questions and concerns. There are excellent resources online for children, families, school personnel and clinical professionals. One specific resource is the National Child Traumatic Stress Network website. It has a wealth of information on helping others cope effectively.
Please check in with children/teens on this topic. When an incident like the Newtown school shooting occurs, it increases separation anxiety, general anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, excessive worrying, sleep difficulties, changes in eating patterns, regressive behaviors (bedwetting, thumb sucking) and anger outbursts to name a few.
This is a good time to discuss personal safety plans as well as a general safety plan if something dangerous or scary is happening at home, school or elsewhere. You should talk about the importance of following teachers/parents instructions. Children and teens also need to tell a trusted adult right away if they hear anyone at school, on the bus, on the playground or anywhere talking about hurting themselves or others. Even if you just think you heard something, go ahead and report it to the school or police. Help children/teens create a list of trusted adults to tell.
Be supportive. Provide a calm environment where children and teens can express their thoughts, feelings, and concerns in a safe way. Encourage respect for each other and each other’s feelings from fear, to worry, to anger, to sadness, etc. Help them make a “coping kit” if needed. Include special items that help them relax and feel happier. (Ex. notepad & pen, small stuffed animal, squishy ball, picture of someone or something special to them, piece of gum, positive note…)
Be available. Let your children know they can come to you with their concerns and feelings. Try to answer their questions as best you can based on their age, developmental level, and need. If you don’t know the answer, it is okay to say so and work together to get more information. Possible discussion questions: How do you feel about hearing about this event? (Acknowledge their feelings. Ex. “It sounds like it really scared you.”) What does your school do to keep kids safe? (intruder drills, bad weather/fire drills, classroom guidance, bully prevention lessons) What would you do if you overheard someone talking about doing something to hurt themselves or others? Who are some trusted adults you could talk to at school? At home? Other?
Be caring. Ask if there is something they would like to do to offer support — make cards, start a fundraiser, start a kindness club at school/neighborhood, etc. It is also important to let children know what support the victims of this tragedy are likely getting. (counseling, church support) Children that have had other sad or scary events in their lives may have extra difficulty coping.
Be thoughtful. Be mindful to limit the amount of media coverage your children are watching. The images and discussions can be very frightening. Maintain your child’s regular routine as much as possible as this instills a sense of safety and security.
Be creative. There are lots of different ways for children and teens to express their feelings. Provide options such as clay, Play-Doh, art materials, poem writing, song writing, play/skit writing, music, dollhouse, action figures, and/or animals for expressive play.
Be aware. Many behaviors are normal for children to display after a sad, scary, or traumatic event. However, if these behaviors continue for an extended amount of time or are severe, it is important to visit with your school counselor or other mental health professional for further support.
Feel free to contact Counseling & Recovery Services Children’s Departments with questions or requests for support.Kimberly Parker, M.Ed., LPC Children’s Services Director (918) 492.2554 email@example.com