By Guest Blogger Juan Santos M.S., CRC, LCMHC
I honestly do not even know how to start this writing. My heart aches with immense pain for the families who have lost their children, and for the children and educators who have witnessed such a traumatic event. I ache for every parent like myself who ponders on the decision of whether or not to send our kids to school. I also ache for the hurt that carries in our community.
Yesterday morning, I drove my son and daughter to their elementary school. During the drive, I did my best to hold back the tears as I thought about the families whose children are no longer here. I thought about my kids’ teachers, and all the weight that they must carry. I thought about my son and my daughter.
What must it feel like to be a kid in today’s classroom?
If you are a regular reader, then you know that I am a mental health professional. A local counselor in the Greensboro area. I love my hometown and community. In the recent days, I’ve seen the hurt that rains over us and the strength that brings us together.
I’ve been asked to write a piece aimed to aid parents with support on discussing how to comfort their children in the wake of this trauma.
How To Talk And Comfort Your Child In The Wake Of School Shootings
1. A wonderful way to support your child is by giving them reassurance.
I can only imagine what it must be like for my kids to have to wake up and go to school after hearing of a school shooting.
Your child, like mine, may experience a concern for their safety. In addition, this concern can grow, and over time, cause your child to experience challenging symptoms such as anxiety or a deep fear to return to school.
As parents and leaders in our child’s life, we can give them reassurance. Doing this will help to reduce worry and fear and promote security. Below are ways to offer your child reassurance:
- “Your school has police officers that are ready to help in case anyone is hurt.”
- “Everyone in the house is safe.”
- “You are safe.”
- Share with your child the actions that you, as their parent, are taking to provide a safe environment.
- Have a teacher conference that gives the teacher space to talk to your child about school safety.
- Ask your child about the safety protocols they have at school.
2. Support your child by utilizing receiving external resources.
As a parent, I am aware that I will not always be the person to help my kids with everything. Consider if helping your child build a relationship with a professional counselor is a good idea. If so, explore the option. This can provide them with a space to share thoughts and feelings. It also gives them a constructive way and develop healthy coping skills.
3. Support your child with advocacy.
When we turn our attention to action, there tends to be a shift in mood. As an advocate, your child may begin to feel confident, empowered, and compassionate versus nervous and stuck. My encouragement with this strategy is to brainstorm with your child.
Discuss ways that your child or even the entire family can help. Ideas can include volunteering in organizations, or writing supportive cards to families and schools that were affected. Another idea would be to create a student led program in their school. Remember, even the smallest rocks have a ripple effect.
4. Limit the amount of exposure your child has to news and media.
You are probably well aware of the coverage seen in the media, radio stations, and across pretty much every social media platform.
Limiting your child’s exposure will help to reduce trauma related symptoms. This is not a form of avoidance, instead, it is recognition that exposure to trauma can further increase unwanted symptoms. As a result of too much exposure, they can experience negative thoughts, feeling fearful, nervousness, and anger.
5. Ask your child questions that promote healthy conversation.
What is happening in schools is at the forefront of our attention. However, for our kids, it’s their everyday life. When I think about my kids, I am mindful to remember that they spend over 6 hours at school. Sometimes longer.
The purpose of the questions below are to help your child understand their feelings and work through them.
Below are questions that you can ask your child to promote healthy conversation and also encourage emotional expression:
- How do you feel when you are in your classroom?
- Is there anything you want to talk about?
- What are common things that people at school are talking about after the school shooting?
- Do you ever feel nervous, scared, or afraid at school?
- Do you feel safe at school?
6. Help your child to continue to live their life.
After traumatic experiences, such as what continues to take place in school settings, kids can at times, stop engaging in pleasurable activities.
Prior to the trauma, your child may have shown strong interest in playing outside or engaging in online video game play. After the trauma, you may notice a change in their interest. They stop playing outside as often and rarely want to get online to play video games.
During this time, you can step in by joining your child in activities. Play outside with them or go for a walk together. The interaction shared will promote positive feelings and support with regulating emotions.
7. Support your child by giving them a safe space.
After a traumatic experience, your child may do what most people do. They may tuck away their feelings or project them out.
As parents, we can give our kids a safe place that includes trust and openness. You can do this by having gatherings of friends and family. The sense of community can help your child to alleviate unwanted symptoms and provide them with a space to talk about their feelings
As I end this writing, I want to share with you that I am a concerned parent. I worry about the safety of son and daughter. I know that I’m not alone in this. My hope that you found this reading supportive.
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