With the terrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, many parents are concerned about their children’s emotional reaction to hearing that such a horrific event happened at a school. Many children will worry about something like this happening in their own school, too. “Our first job as parents is to reassure children that we’re all – all the grown-ups that they know – are trying to keep them as safe as possible,” says Donna Morrison, Early Childhood Programs Director for The Guidance Center of Westchester. Ms. Morrison also stresses the importance of limiting the children’s exposure to the media coverage.
“This type of 24/7 coverage is not healthy for adults, either. When you find yourself unable to stop watching the coverage, it’s a red flag for help,” agrees Mara Saumell, LCSW-R, Director of Mental Health Clinics.
Ms. Saumell continues, “Often times we feel that watching as much or reading as much as possible gives us a sense of control. We don’t realize that this barrage of information is overloading our system. It then has the opposite effect and can result in constant thoughts about feeing unsafe.”
This, she explains, can mainfest in physical symptoms which someone may not necessarily think is related to the traumatic event. In both children and adults, be on the look out for: nightmares, the shakes; difficulty breathing for no apparent reason; loss of appetite; headaches; other physical complaints. A link to a list of physical symptoms is at the end of this article.
So, what do we do? How do we help ourselves and the children we love feel safe?
- Have a plan. Just like we have a fire drill, we need to have a plan for an unwanted intruder. Check with your school about the emergency preparedness plan for an intruder in the building and talk about this plan with your children. Make sure they understand the plan and see it as a way to be safe and have power and control, not as a threat.
- Limit media exposure. If children ask questions, answer them honestly with words they will understand. Limit information to basic facts.
- Remind them that everyone is working to keep the community safe. Reassure them that it is highly unlikely that something is going to happen to them.
- Look for physical symptoms such as headaches, sleeplessness, mood swings or clinginess, bedwetting, etc. This may happen for a week or two. If it goes on longer, consult your child’s physician. Some children may have no immediate reaction at all and symptoms may occur three to six months later.
- Take care of yourself. You can’t care for your children if you are not feeling well yourself. Make sure you’re getting sleep and good nutrition.
- Children already in treatment for emotional or behavioral issues may see an increase in symptoms. Consult with your child’s therapist.
- Try to keep things as normal as possible for your children. Stick to routines and keep up regular activities.
Most importantly, hug your kids and those you love. Reach out if you need support.