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If you have a school-age child, they’ve probably already talked to their classmates about a school shooting in Texas. So what is the best way to know how they are feeling and what they are thinking? Ask them.
“Children’s questions can be very different from adults,” said David Schফnfeld, a pediatrician who instructs the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. And the best way to determine how much information they need is to listen to them, he says.
“Before we can reassure them or help them with what is bothering them, we need to understand what their real concerns are,” Seanfeld said. Her group has created guidelines for talking to children after a tragic event.
Kids often ask who is responsible, what can be done to prevent tragedy or it can happen in my school? True answers are important for building trust. In a year when the United States has already seen 27 school shootings and more than 200 mass shootings, the unfortunate answer is: although schools are generally a safe place, there are risks.
“A lot of people tell me, you know, ‘it’s just the new normal,’ and my reaction to them is there’s nothing normal about it,” Seanfeld said.
When 19 children are shot dead, it causes deep distress. “It should be painful – it’s an unacceptable situation,” he said. But for now, this is an unfortunate reality of life in the United States. “We can help children learn to cope with the pain they feel when they recognize the underlying dangers of this part of the world,” Schফnfeld said.
The age of a child will determine how much information to share, but that’s not the only reason. Their emotional reactions may be related to how much trauma they have experienced in the past or how closely they have been associated with a tragedy. If the victims were their peers, the event would have had a stronger emotional impact than the children who had heard of the shooting in the news. However, it will take time for parents to comfort their children and help them to deal with such traumatic events.
“We have to be patient, and sometimes we have to repeat these conversations, especially to young children,” said Melissa Brimer, director of the terrorism and disaster program at UCLA-Duke University’s National Center for Child Traumatic Stress. “Sometimes they need it in small portions. They may not be able to digest everything in one sitting,” Breimer told NPR. Morning version.
The American School Counselors Association has compiled a list of resources and tips to help after a school shooting. At the top is the advice to keep the routine right. Even if the children are anxious or scared, there is an advantage in going to school and maintaining daily activities. The organization explains in its guide, “Children are protected from routine predictions.”
The agency says it’s also helpful to limit the amount of media you and your children receive, whether it’s reading social media, radio, TV or online news. In a crisis, the main reason to see, hear or read media coverage is to understand what is happening. “But if you see the same coverage over and over again and it doesn’t help you learn something new that is important to you and your family, then you should probably disconnect,” said Seanfeld.
In the days and weeks following the tragedy, parents should talk to their children about how they are dealing with anxiety or worry. Breimer says there are some really good books out there for conversation. He recommends Once I was very scared, Chandra Ghosh Epen, for preschool set. In the story, many animals go through scary experiences, but each reacts differently and has its own way of dealing with them. Breimer says the strategy that works best for them with such books can help parents and caregivers to help children.
For parents of older children, another strategy is to help them turn their feelings of anger or anxiety into action. Schoenfeld says it’s normal to get angry and blame someone after a school shooting. But if kids show their anger at someone who does hateful things – like a shooter – it doesn’t alleviate grief or solve problems. Anger can lead to anger.
An alternative approach is to engage in initiatives to combat gun violence. Students at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., For example, began pushing for gun control in 2018 after a mass shooting.
“It didn’t solve the problem, but it did make a difference,” Seanfeld said. Students have been effective advocates for attention to gun violence.
“So I think, yes, kids can be part of the solution, but adults also have to be a big part of the solution,” he says.
The bottom line, Schonfeld says, is to continue the conversation with your kids. Ask what they think and feel – this is a good place to start.