The world stood still for a short moment. News reports described a horrific scene at a Connecticut elementary school. The report stated that a young man in a bulletproof vest forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School and opened fire inside two classrooms. According to the Associated Press, the young man was identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza.
Lanza’s mother was a teacher at the elementary school and was not at the school that day. However, it would be later reported that Lanza also shot and killed his mother in the home they shared. Lanza reportedly killed 26 people on Friday December 14, 2012, just days before Christmas. Twenty children and six adults fell victim to Lanza’s attack.
Fox 35 interviews our Orlando Family Expert Jada Collins, MA, MS below:
So, what should you tell your children?
If your child is under ten and has heard nothing concerning the Newtown shooting, there is no reason to bring up information that may cause unnecessary fears. However, it is important to be prepared to have the discussion if your child hears of the event through classmates and friends. There are conflicting views of whether parents should or should not speak to their children about this horrific event. However, it is always necessary to be prepared with the appropriate response and information for your children.
Whether your child has been directly or indirectly involved with the tragedy, it is important to become aware of your child’s behavior to determine if he or she has been negatively affected by the tragedy. Although there are general responses traumatic events, it is important to understand that each child may respond differently. It is necessary for parents to be in tune to variations in a child’s behavior. Here are a few symptoms to look for:
- Nightmares or unwanted memories of the event
- Trouble sleeping and/or falling asleep
- Challenges with paying attention or problems concentrating
- Increased problems with schoolwork and/or relationships at school
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Bed wetting
- Becoming more clingy to caretakers
- Sucking thumb
- Avoidance of the people or places that trigger memories of the event
- Anger and or behavioral problems
- Nervousness or Anxiety
Once you have determined that your child has or has not been affected by the event, here are some ways to approach the discussion about the tragedy.
According to Jim West, LMHC there are 9 Tips to help you talk to your children:
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!”
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 . . .”
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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