In light of the tragic shooting events in Connecticut, how can we cope?
Remember – and remind your children – that there are lots of people helping the children, teachers, and families affected by the tragedy. Although saddened, horrified, angered, and troubled, (with incredible sympathy), for all those involved, try not to let your natural anxiety overshadow your day.
Answer their questions. Remember that children take in everything they see and hear. Kids (even teens) are good observers, but are still learning to interpret and communicate their own feelings. Give children honest answers and information. Provide them with enough information to answer their questions, but be mindful that there is no need to fully describe the details of the event. As with any situation, it is okay not to have all the answers, and it is important to say so.
Keep in mind your own behavior. Children learn from watching us. They watch how we respond to events. They also learn from our conversations with others. Although you are incredibly sad and unsettled, help your children (and yourself) by maintaining a positive outlook. Try not to succumb to the over-riding sadness that can easily take over. Put in place positive thinking and relaxation techniques, and model and share these with your children. Maintaining your own, as well as your child’s regular bedtime, will enable your physical body to better cope with the natural anxiety.
Be available, and maintain a flexible and patient demeanor. Be flexible and allow time for additional questions and concerns to arise. Children may have fearful thoughts and feelings. Be there to comfort with closeness and affection as well as additional time to talk. Keep in mind that some children may worry about their own safety or that of friends and relatives who are away (especially at college). Asking the same questions over and over may be a way for a child to gain reassurance.
Keep news-watching to a minimum. Ongoing viewing of the same horrific events and related commentary can increase anxiety, fear and stress in both children and adults. If you feel the need to be connected, keep up via the newspaper. It will keep you informed, while lessening the stressful impact of the anxiety and fear on you and your children.
Move your orientation outward. As you are sympathizing with the affected individuals, continue to maintain your outward focus, rather than continuing to focus on your internal feelings and thoughts of sadness and anxiety. Remember that many are helping those affected. Pray for them. Meditate. Help someone else in need in their honor. This holiday season provides us with many opportunities to help those in need. Carry on, reach out, and serve. Involve the family. When we work to help others, where we can, our worries can diminish and we serve for the greater good.
Information compiled from “Talking to Children about Community Violence,” American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and “Helping Your Family Cope with Anxiety and Stress,” Parent Education Program (PEP).