Devastating is the only word I can think of to describe how the parents of the children who died in Conn. must be feeling. If you’re like me, you’ve been shedding tears for the families and perhaps imagining your own family in that situation. Your children have very likely been shaken by this event, as well and will need help in the coming days from you to calm their fears.
I’d like to offer a few key tips for shepherding your children through this horrific tragedy.
1. Increase physical touch. Sometimes words are not enough and the comfort or long hugs of extra snuggle time has been shown to lower anxiety in traumatic situations.
2. Be a good listener. Let your child openly express their own feelings of worry, fear, or sorrow. Affirm that it’s very normal to feel this way.
3. Ask open-ended questions. i.e. “Tell me what you’ve heard about the shootings.” “What is it that worries you?” “What would help you feel less scared?”
4. If your child is concerned about safety in his/her own school, reassure them that school shootings are extremely rare. There are over 120,000 school in the US and this a very rare occurrence. (As a result of the Columbine tragedy 13 years ago, school are actually safer now and many schools have emergency plans in place and have practiced them.) Tell your child that there will always be a helper at school to guide them in case of an emergency. You can also let your child know that there were many children who were saved because of loving teachers who protected their students and kept them safe.
5. Limit your child’s exposure to media images in the days to come. Young children, in particular, don’t know that the images they see are actually replays of the incident so they think each image is an additional tragedy they’re witnessing.
6. Keep explanations brief and age-appropriate. If your child has not heard or seen any coverage of the incident, please be the one to tell your child that something very sad has occurred and that some children were hurt at a school by a very sick person who can’t hurt anyone anymore. Reassure your child that s/he is safe and you will do everything in your power to keep them safe and so will their teachers at school.
7. Sometimes taking even a small action step can help children (and adults) feel more empowered. Light a candle in your home to honor the lost children. Your child could color a picture that’s sent to the surviving students at: Sandy Hook Elementary School, 12 Dickinson Drive., Sandy Hook, CT 06482. A list of charities to donate to is emerging, too. Here’s a link, but check to see if the organizations are valid: http://www.wcpo.com/dpp/news/national/groups-raising-funds-for-victims-of-newtown-conn-shooting ..
8. Keep your normal activities and routines in place so children feel a sense of security.