Once again, every parent and child from Newtown, CT—as well as the rest of America—has to face the immediate and horrific impact of senseless gun violence.
The tragic events at the Sandy Hook elementary school have many parents searching for ways to explain the massacre to their children and prevent them from being paralyzed by anxiety and dread.
Here are 10 steps parents can take to help their children come to terms with feelings of shock and uncertainty while reassuring them that everything possible is being done to protect their safety.
- The parent’s role is that of protector. Be strong yourself during this difficult time. Be patient and an effective listener.
- By being an able container for your children’s emotions you will foster the feeling of security.
- For children below seven or eight years of age, depending on their maturity level, shield them completely from broadcast, print and online news, as media reports may cause trauma through repeated exposure to the event. If you live outside the Newtown area and have strong reason to believe your children have not heard about the event, don’t mention it to them.
- Speak to older children about the incident and help them understand that there are dangers inherent in life but as a parent you are taking all possible steps to keep them safe from imminent dangers. Reassure them that schools do have safety measures in place.
- Explain to them that there is no current external threat to their safety. The person responsible for the shooting is dead. Be aware that in the short term children might begin to perceive illogical threats to their security.
- Expect emotional reactions such as sadness, fear, anger and anxiety to occur in both yourself and your children. Seek support in school counselors, friends and family if needed.
- Children express their stress in two ways: either by internalizing or by externalizing. In other words, they either stuff down emotions or act out. If you find your children are withdrawn, clingy, sad and not talking, then they have internalized their feelings of stress. If children are behaving aggressively or verbally lashing out, then they have externalized their feelings of stress.
- Tailor your message depending on each child’s temperament, developmental age and capacity to understand.
- The closer you are to the epicenter of this event and the people involved in it, the more likely it is that your children might develop symptoms of acute stress. These could manifest in the form of anxiety, refusal to go to school, irritability, insomnia, hyper vigilance, jumpiness, restlessness, nightmares, crying spells or tantrums.
- If these symptoms worsen and persist for weeks or even months or interfere with your children’s functioning, seek the help of a professional.
As a parent, you likely need some reassurance too, so be sure that you are as strong as possible so you can give your children the attention and affection they need now and in the future.