While the details are unraveling about the school shooting in Newton, Connecticut parents around the country are wondering what to say to their kids to make them feel safe at school.  So what can parents say to their kids to make them feel safe?

9 Parent Tips to Talk to your Kids after a School Shooting | Orlando Child Expert Jim West, MA, LMHC

Listen:  First it’s important to listen and allow them to get out how they feel.  If they are having trouble putting their feelings into words as a parent you might ask them “Do you feel worried, sad, anxious . . . ?”  and not judge what they say.

Validate:  Kids and teenagers need to feel their feelings are heard.  As they express their feelings you can show you hear their feelings by validating your child.  Basically repeat their feeling statements by saying “I can see you are worried or anxious about the shooting!”

NBC News interviews Jim West

Empathize: Empathy is showing you understand by saying “I can see why you are worried or anxious because of what happened at the school in Connecticut . . .”

Art Paint Therapy with Children

Creating brings Healing:  Some children may not be able to verbalize it and can find healing by drawing or painting their worries or negative feelings. After they draw their feelings ask them to draw a solution to the problem as well.

Movement:  Sometimes kids, especially boys, talk better while they are moving.  Riding in a car, walking the dog, riding their bike, or even a balloon fight can help get out angry or anxious feelings while talking about traumatic or concerning events.

Safe Home: Keep your home base a safe haven and let your kids know that you are their to protect them and keep them safe!  Maintain your routines as much as possible as kids find safety the rhythm of routines.  Take a break from watching the news as well because extended television news can cause heightened fears or anxiety.

Calm Parents = Calm Kids: .  Parents watching the news about this school shooting may feel panic about their own children as they have strong empathy for the parents of these young victims.  It is okay to feel this way and talk to your friends or a counselor about your feelings.  Your children however, need to see you be real, but strong, calm and able to reassure your kids.  Children pick up on emotional instability so it is important for parents to be healthy emotionally for their kids.

Watch for Signs of Stress:  After a traumatic event people have feelings of shock, fearfulness, anxiety and as a result they may have difficulty focusing, trouble sleeping, nightmares, or loss of appetite.  These symptoms are normal and should go away after a couple of months if the child is expressing their feelings properly.  They can express their feelings with art, journaling or talking.  If the feelings or symptoms of stress do not go away after two months then it would be a good idea to seek help from a therapist or counselor.

Professional Help:  Sometimes traumatic events can cause so much stress in the brain that your brain can latch on to it. When your brain latches on to a worry or concern it can keep replaying irrational thoughts or painful events over and over again.  This in turn can cause panic attacks, shortness of breath, loss of focus or appetite, increased heart rate, cold sweats and more.  If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms please reach out to a licensed professional counselor or therapist.

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Author: James L West, MA, LMHC, NCC, Orlando Communicator, Author, Coach and Licensed Mental Health Counselor