Friday, December 14, 2012

Talking To Your Child About School Shootings And Other Traumatic Events

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1.      Turn off the television for a while.  It is tempting to camp in front of the television, because we are hungry for news and answers.  Avoid having the television news on in front of young children today and tomorrow, but get your news quietly online.

2.     Acknowledge the events with children.  Allow them to talk about the events.  They probably don’t want information about what happened, but rather to be comforted that they are safe.  After a disaster in the news, a child wants to know, "Will my house be bombed,” or “will a hurricane hit my house,” or “will someone shot guns in MY school.”  Children tend to personalize events that happen on the world stage.   Explain how you've always been there to care for your child and how he has always been safe.  Confirm that you will help him stay safe in the future.

3.     Continue routines.  So much of a child's sense of safety and security comes from daily rituals and routine. Let the children eat lunch at the normal time. They need their usual afternoon nap. Let them go to their sporting events. 

4.     Respect your child's interest in the event.  Your child might not want to talk about the event today.  Next week it might be different.  Look carefully for nonverbal clues; listen intently to what the child says. Follow the child’s lead.  If your child asks, "What happened at that school," that is an indication the child wants to know and is ready to talk about it.  “Someone went into the building and shot some people,” may be all that is needed.  The child probably does not need a 10 minute discussion with a lot of details.

5.     Include the event in evening prayers.  Ask that God would keep all children safe, “especially us and our friends.”  (Remember, children are focused on themselves most, and a prayer for others may also include a prayer for us).

Children respond to traumatic events in many different ways. A child might have a reaction very soon after an event.  Others may seem fine for weeks or even months.  Parents should be aware of knowing the signs that are common at different ages.  This can help the family to recognize problems and respond appropriately.

Preschool Age

Children from age 1 to 5 find it particularly hard to adjust to change and loss. These children have not yet developed their own coping skills, so they must depend on parents, family members, and teachers to help them through difficult times.  At this age, the child may regress to an earlier behavioral stage.  Preschoolers may resume thumb sucking or bedwetting.  The child might become afraid of strangers, animals, darkness, or imaginary “monsters.” The child might become physically clingy, holding tight to a parent or teach or even a place. Changes in eating and sleeping habits are common, as are physical aches and pains.  Parents may also see in the child being disobedient or hyperactive.  The child may show behavior that is aggressive or withdrawn.  Preschoolers may tell exaggerated stories about the traumatic event or may speak of it over and over.

Early Childhood

Children age 5 to 11 may have some of the same reactions as younger children. They may also withdraw from friends.  They may not be interested in their usual play groups.  They may compete more for the attention of parents.  Fear going to school is not uncommon after a traumatic incident, so a parent might especially anticipate this type of behavior after a school shooting in the news. The child may find it hard to concentrate. These children may also return to more childish behaviors, such as asking to be fed or dressed.


Children age 12 to 14 are likely to have vague physical complaints.  They may ignore their usual chores or school work.  A child might compete vigorously for attention from parents and teachers, or they may also withdraw, resist authority, become disruptive at home or in the classroom, or even begin to experiment with

high-risk behaviors such as alcohol or drug use.

How to Help

  • Reassure your child.
  • Very young children need a lot of cuddling, as well as verbal support.
  • Answer questions about the event honestly, but without a lot of scary details.
  • Encourage children of all ages to express emotions through conversation, drawing, or painting and to find a way to help others who were affected by the disaster.
  • Try to maintain a normal routine
  • Temporarily reduce your expectations about performance in school or at home.
  • Acknowledge that you too may have reactions.

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