With news of mass shootings appearing in the media with tragic regularity, many parents wonder how they can help their young children understand and process these stories. 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. What you talk about and how you say it depends on their age, but all children need to be able to know you are there to listen to them.
- Find times when they are most likely to talk, like riding in the car, before dinner, or at bedtime.
- Start the conversation and 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.
Keep home a safe place—Children, regardless of age, often find home to be a safe haven when the world around them becomes overwhelming. During times of crisis, it is important to remember that your children may come home seeking a safe feeling. Help make it a place where your children find the solitude or comfort they need. Plan a night where everyone participates in a favorite family activity.
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 schoolwork, 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. Be sure to schedule some breaks and allow yourself time to engage in activities you enjoy.
Take care of yourself—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.
If you or your child is feeling stuck or overwhelmed, you may want to consider talking to a mental health professional.
Reviewed by Eva Benmeleh, March 2020
- Communication with your child is key after a traumatic event. Let them talk.
- Make sure to create a safe place at home and bring the family together.
- Look for signs of stress or anxiety and take action to help your child, even weeks after the event.
- Seek out professional help if your family is struggling to deal with a traumatic event like a shooting.