Two key principles for parents and teachers in disaster and trauma include: 1) Limit children's exposure to the television and social media and 2) Parents and teachers need to model a sense of security so that children can find their source of security in them. Certainly life is fragile but we can model hope, confidence, and a positive outlook for children. Below is an article provided by the American Psychological Association to guide parents and caregivers during the aftermath of shootings.
Helping Your Children Manage Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting
As a parent, you may be struggling with how to talk with your children about a shooting rampage. It is important to remember that children look to their parents to make them feel safe. This is true no matter what age your children are, be they toddlers, adolescents or even young adults.
Consider the following tips for helping your children manage their distress:
- Talk with your child. Talking to your children about their worries and concerns 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.
- Find times when they are most likely to talk: such as when riding in the car, before dinner, or at bedtime.
- Start the conversation; let them know you are interested in them and how they are coping with the information they are getting.
- Listen to their thoughts and point of view; don't interrupt - allow them to express their ideas and understanding before you respond.
- Express your own opinions and ideas without putting down theirs; acknowledge that it is okay to disagree.
- Remind them you are there for them to provide safety, comfort and support. Give them a hug.
Watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety. After a traumatic event, it is typical for children (and adults) to experience a wide range of emotions, including fearfulness, shock, anger, grief and anxiety. Your children's behaviors may change because of their response to the event. They may experience trouble sleeping, difficulty with concentrating on school work or changes in appetite. This is normal for everyone and should begin to disappear in a few months. Encourage your children to put their feelings into words by talking about them or journaling. Some children may find it helpful to express their feelings through art.
Take "news breaks." Your children may want to keep informed by gathering information about the event from the Internet, television or newspapers. It is important to limit the amount of time spent watching the news because constant exposure may actually heighten their anxiety and fears. Also, scheduling some breaks for yourself is important; allow yourself time to engage in activities you enjoy.
Take care of yourself. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your children. Be a model for your children on how to manage traumatic events. Keep regular schedules for activities such as family meals and exercise to help restore a sense of security and normalcy.
These tips and strategies can help you guide your children through the current crisis. If you are feeling stuck or overwhelmed, you may want to consider talking to someone who could help. A licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist can assist you in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward. It is important to get professional help if you feel like you are unable to function or perform basic activities of daily living.
Article taken with permission from the American Psychological Association Help Center http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/aftermath.aspx
Thanks to psychologists Ronald S. Palomares, PhD, and Lynn F. Bufka, PhD. who assisted the APA with this article.
Updated April 2011
Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event
Helping your children manage distress in the aftermath of a shooting
Managing your distress in the aftermath of a shooting
Five Questions on the Tucson, Ariz., Shootings for Psychologist Joel Dvoskin, PhD **please see # 3 question and response
A Guide for Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers
Helpful Resources for School Emergency Management:
Psychological First Aid (PFA) for Students and Teachers: Listen, Protect, Connect ? Model & Teach
Listen, Protect, Connect, Model and Teach
Psychological First Aid for Teacher and Students
After a Loved One Dies? how children grieve and how parents and other adults can support them
School Crisis Guide: Help and Healing in a Time of Crisis
Disaster Helpline from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration
Disaster Distress Helpline