Recently, every parent’s worst nightmare happened: A gunman opened fire on an elementary school full of children in Connecticut, killing at least 20 children. No doubt, your children, even if not directly impacted by this tragedy, may hear about it and have questions and concerns.
Here are some actions you might want to take to help your children:
Talk to your children honestly about this tragedy and listen to their responses.
Young children react differently to tragedies than school-aged children, so Mental Health America recommends tailoring discussions with kids to their age group. For pre-school age children, look for nervous behaviors like thumb sucking; emphasize the child’s safety at home with family and ask questions to learn about the child’s particular feelings. For grade-school age children, encourage self-expression (through art or sports) as a way to understand their fears and anxieties. Do not try to cover up the tragedy, but don’t excessively expose your kids, either. If you have a teenager, encourage him to talk to friends and family and make sure any existing emotional problems are not affected by the tragedy.
Limit their exposure to news coverage.
Your children may want to watch the news on this event to understand what’s going on. But, “it is important to limit the amount of time spent watching the news because constant exposure may actually heighten their anxiety and fears,” according to the American Psychological Association.
Know the warning signs of a child who might be struggling to cope.
Most kids will be able to move through this tragedy without too much stress. But even children not directly impacted by the tragedy may be affected, so it’s important that parents be vigilant about their children’s reactions, like anxiety or extreme sadness. Of course, these reactions may not be immediately apparent. Look for signs over the next few weeks, such things as changes in the child’s school performance, changes in relationships with peers and teachers, excessive worry, sleeplessness, nightmares, headaches or stomachaches, or loss of interest in activities that the child used to enjoy may be warning signs, according to the American Psychological Association.
Find grief counseling.
If you’re feeling like your child can’t cope with this tragedy alone, consider reaching out to a grief counseling group in your area. To find one, start by contacting local hospitals, community centers and churches — these organizations often can refer you to a free or low-cost grief counseling group. The Child Mind Institute suggests that school teachers and counselors discuss the issue together in order to support their students. Reach out to administrators at your child’s school to find out what resources and programs they have in place. Click here to learn more.