After the initial shock, disbelief, horror and compassion for the families and community involved, a typical reaction is to be fearful that something like this can happen to someone we love. We want to check on the people we love and draw them near us, hoping that we can always keep them safe. It may even feel frightening to send our children to school. As parents we worry about what to tell our children when they ask us questions. Here are some things you can do immediately and in the coming days to help yourself and your family. There are even some suggestions of ways to become part of the solution so that we can prevent these problems.
Things to do immediately:
- Be with you family or close friends. At times like these, we need to be close to people we love. Do your best to make it happen.
- Do something quiet that makes you and your children or family members feel safe. This could be something as simple as playing games together or watching a movie. Choose something that is familiar that makes you feel connected.
- If your child asks questions, consider their developmental age when answering the question. Check out the resources section of our website for more information about this.
- Do not watch coverage on TV while your child is around. The images tend to stay in our minds and become a part of the trauma of the situation, increasing the severity. If you know that you tend to be haunted by images of tragedy, do not expose yourself to these images. People who immerse themselves in the newscasts are often retraumatized by the repeated exposure. Reading about it or watch or listen to the information only to the extent that you need questions answers.
- Make sure you take good care of yourself and your children. Eat healthy meals, get to sleep on time.
Things to do in the coming days:
- Reassure your child that these things are very, very, rare and that their school is safe. Most schools will be using extra security measures. If they are not, help your child’s school to develop safe practices.
- Calm yourself down. Your child cannot feel safe if you are fearful. The information we understand about the brain and specifically “mirror neurons” suggest that our children can easily pick up on our fears.
- If you have trouble calming yourself, do some deep breathing, meditation, or yoga. These activities are known to settle down our nervous system. Distraction sometimes works well.
- If your child needs to play out things they they know about the incident, be reassured that it is your child’s way to work through the trauma, just as for adults, we often need to talk about it. If your child plays it out repetitively however and displays other symptoms such as a change in appetite, nightmares, sleep difficulties, or fear of going to school or being away from you, consider getting professional help from a psychotherapist who has experience working with children who have been traumatized.
- Your child may need some extra support in the coming days. It is okay to give them that support, even if it means you are staying with them for an additional five minutes at bedtime or reading an additional story. Follow your child’s lead. If they need the extra time with you, respond appropriately; if you need it but they don’t; find something healthy you can do to soothe yourself.
- Do not let yourself obsess about what you would do in that situation. We often try to do this to reassure ourselves that we could save ourselves or our loved ones. Unfortunately, the repeated visual images, tend to stir us up even more rather than reassure us that we can do something to save ourselves.
What you can do to prevent these things from happening. What you can do to promote a safe community.
- Often times, people who commit these crimes are very emotionally troubled individuals. We shy away from wanting to think about helping people with mental illness thinking “that doesn’t really have anything to do with me.” Until something like this happens. Then we think, why wasn’t that person given help? Donate to a local mental health organization that helps people get the help they need. We are learning that the earlier we help children, the more of an impact it will have on their brain development. Early childhood intervention helps prevent tragedies like these.
- If you know of a child who you think is being abused or neglected, reach out. It can make a huge difference to have one caring individual in their lives. Report information to child protective services or to the police if you are alarmed about someone’s behavior.
- Make sure schools in your community have safety plans and make visitors sign in before entering the school. If they don’t, make sure they develop these protective measures.
We are here to help. Let us know if you need assistance.
Cynthia Divino, Ph.D.
Executive Director, BIPR