Fear and anxiety after a mass shooting are 'normal reactions to an abnormal situation'.
Perhaps the most troubling issue for parents is that part of their job is to help their children feel safe in a world that can turn deadly in an instant.
Sadly, after the recent shooting in Parkland, Florida, mass school shootings and gun violence have gone from being a rare tragedy to a tragic reality facing our youth today. These tragedies leave families and children scrambling to try to understand how violent incidents happen. Scenes of children running and parents searching frantically have become all too familiar.
This trauma doesn't end when children and parents are reunited. This trauma often leads to anxiety which can be difficult to manage when children do not feel safe in what ought to be a safe environment. Witnessing and experiencing events like a school shooting have psychological consequences on children of all ages. Images flash across screens, the headlines, news and videos of tragic events are on a constant news reel, so our children and teenagers can't escape the disturbing scenes. Many will be scared and confused, which can often induce fear and anxiety, especially for children, who don't know how to make sense of it all.
How can you possibly explain these shootings to your kids and how to do you talk about it?
Remember, parents you are the grown-ups and must be able to bring this topic up and initiate the conversation. So, turn off the television and talk about the events. You need to get an idea of what your children and teenagers know and what misconceptions they may have already heard and 'know' about the tragic event to better understand what they have been exposed to.
A common misconception is that it is best to avoid the conversation to decrease anxiety, but that could actually leave a child or teenager in the dark about how you as their parent feels, what is acceptable for them to feel or that it is taboo to talk about the subject, causing increased anxiety which may lead to further depression and isolation. Parents should share their feelings about the event in age appropriate language.
Here are some strategies to keep the lines of communication open and your own emotions in check.
- Don't make promises you can't keep but do assure them there are safety procedures in place at their school.
- Encourage your kids to feel their feelings and validate them.
- Get back to and maintain a normal routine -return to school, get enough sleep, eat healthy food, exercise, and participate in extracurricular activities.
- Limit media exposure -turn the t.v. off.
- Create time to listen and be available to talk -let them lead the conversation, but do check-in -at bedtime, while driving in the car.
- Observe children's emotional state and know when to seek professional help.
Modern Family Counseling is here to help you and your child and teenager to manage their anxiety. Make an appointment today with Leslie Zindulka, LSW one of our child and adolescent experts.