LN also gathered a group of professional counselors who shared their advice for families undergoing trauma and tragedy in their lives.
Professor Russell Hyken, psychotherapist/education diagnostician, Educational & Psychotherapy Services
- First, ask your son or daughter what they have heard about the event. If the children do have those gory details, then change the direction of conversation and focus on the good people supporting the teachers and parents.
- Reassure children that their school is safe and tell them of the school’s protocols. “That’s what children want to hear—that they will be safe.”
- When young children do voice their concerns and worries, acknowledge their feelings. Then, re-direct their energy and do something fun.
- It is important to build time into your week to spend time with your children. “It doesn’t have to be serious conversations; but by having that time, children will feel comfortable talking with you in the future when serious or troubling issues occur in their lives."
Rekha Ramanuja, child and adolescent psychologist, Clayton Behavioral and Epworth’s Residential Treatment Program
- Talk to friends, family, or a specialist. If you are a grieving parent, then you need an outlet quickly.
- If the child is actually a witness or survivor to a traumatic event, then there is no simple way to deal with everything your child is experiencing. “But start by letting your children know that you love them and are going to support them.”
- If the child is afraid, “Be patient and let the child know this feeling will not be the same forever. Just let them know you’re available to talk.”
- It is OK to say, “I don’t know the answer, but we’ll find it together.”
- Children and teenagers display signs of stress differently. Some talk a lot, ask numerous questions, have stomachaches or headaches, or become preoccupied with the issue.
- Older children may display changes in personality or in their habits. Parents can start begin a conversation by saying, “I noticed that you’re not yourself. Is it the shooting (or other traumatic event)? It’s OK, because it has affected me, too.”
- If you are asking too many questions, then back off; let your child sort out their thoughts and come to you.
Catherine Judkins, clinical child psychologist and co-founder of MyChildPsychologist.com
- “Parents have to take some time to know their emotions, and practice what they are going to say to the kids.” Get concrete points down for a conversation with kids.
- If it’s a death in the family, of a teacher or a close friend, tell your young child that the body stopped working, they will not see the person anymore and that they will miss them. “Be factual without overwhelming them or scaring them.”
- Then give the child a sense of peace. “The person is not in pain.” If religion is a part of the child’s life, then place the event in the context of the faith.
- If children feel threatened, help them to take deep breaths to relax their body. “When children are calmer, they think more clearly and can listen.”
- Parents should understand that children will revisit the topic. There is no single conversation that resolves the matter in a child’s mind. “Kids process things at several levels, that’s a good thing. Their view is changing and developing.”
- Encourage kids to help children dealing with loss. “For instance, use bake sales to raise money to donate to the victims. Help children channel their energy in a positive way and help them take control of the issue.”