Helping Kids Deal with Mass Shooting Grief
When it comes to the tragedy of school shootings, one thing everyone agrees on is this: kids are the ones who suffer the most. It does not matter if they were physically present at the time of the shooting or if they personally knew one of the victims—simply being a school-aged child in this day and age can cause high levels of anxiety and grief.
That is because kids today are being prepared and trained to deal with school shootings on a regular basis. Lockdown drills have outpaced fire drills, and devastating pictures of slain children can be found all over the media. It has become such a common part of their lives that you may miss the signs of grief that can occur when another mass shooting takes place.
It is important to talk to your children and help them find ways to cope. In the aftermath of yet another huge blow to our country and our communities, here are some ways you can reach out:
- Make Yourself Available: Kids (especially older ones) might feel uncomfortable bringing up the topic of death, dying, and school-related shootings, so it is important for you to make yourself available in way that is normal and non-threatening. Discussing such devastation in simple and reassuring ways might be difficult for you, but it is important that your children feel supported by the adults in their lives. If you are calm and upfront about the topic, they will be more likely to open up and feel safe sharing their own thoughts.
- Make Others Available: Let’s face it—parents are not always a child’s first choice when it comes to working through difficult emotional situations. If you feel your child cannot or will not open up to you, consider connecting them with a teacher, a counselor, or even a mental health professional who can lay some of the groundwork for you.
- Reduce Media Access: Sensationalized news stories tend to make these situations worse for children, so consider turning off the news and limiting screen time until the initial fervor recedes. You can also avoid “adult-level” conversations about the shooting while your kids are in the room. Children overhear and absorb much more than we give them credit for.
- Create an Outlet: Although older children might be able to articulate their feelings, younger kids may not have that ability. Consider providing an outlet for them with drawings, puppets, movies, and stories that deal with the situation.
- Focus on What Is Important: It is easy to lose perspective when a sudden tragedy occurs and to begin seeing danger around every corner. Most kids will continue to be safe and thrive in their schools, regardless of what is going on in the world around them. Focus on the normal routines and activities—going for a family walk, playing a board game, spending some time at the school playground. A state of constant fear is not ideal for anybody, so it is important that you make them feel safe in their homes and their communities.
One of the best things you can do in this type of situation is to take care of yourself. You have more influence over your children’s actions and beliefs than you think—if you find yourself struggling with grief and anxiety following a tragedy, then chances are they will, too. Make sure you address your own issues and feelings so that your children have a safe place to turn when they need it.
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By Amy Johnson