The massacre at a Florida high school on Wednesday is hard for adults to wrap their head around, but it can be completely overwhelming for children who hear about it or see images of the carnage. Parents need to help guide their children through the fear, anger, upset and helplessness such a horrific attack can stir up in children.
“The first thing parents should do is assess their own reactions. If you tell your child ‘everything is OK and you are safe’ but your behavior expresses fear and powerlessness, your child will pick up on that,” said Mary Vineis, NewBridge Services Director of Community Response and Education and coordinator of the Morris County Traumatic Loss Coalition.
Vineis said parents need to process the events before speaking to their children, so they can role-model coping skills.
“When you’re ready, start the conversation by asking what they know and have heard,” Vineis said. “Encourage them to ask questions, listen for their fears and concerns, and gently correct any misinformation they have.”
Vineis said parents should express their empathy for the families affected and talk about the heroes, including first-responders, who helped save lives. “Let your children know you love them and will take care of them. Assure them that it is normal to feel upset about what happened,” she said.
Children should have limited, if any, exposure to news accounts of the shootings, Vineis said. She also recommended that families follow normal routines.
In the wake of tragedy, children may express irritability, have restless sleep and/or a change in appetite, but those responses should dissipate within a couple of weeks. Give your children extra patience, care and love, Vineis said.
If parents continue to have concerns about their children’s reactions, they should seek professional help. Call NewBridge at 973-366-9333 or visit NewBridge.org. For more information about helping your child cope with traumatic events, click on the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.