Our hearts are breaking as we consider the tragic events which took place in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday. There are no words to express our sadness or our sympathies to those impacted.
With such a tragedy, it is possible that your own child may experience a wide range of emotions while processing this. How children experience traumatic events and how they express distress depends, largely, on the children’s age and level of development. This resource may be of use in deciding what can be expected:
Some tips in addressing traumatic events with your children:
Be Honest and Reassuring. When a traumatic event occurs, children of all ages take cues from the adults they trust. It is important to be honest and realistic when explaining an event. Explain what they can age appropriately handle. Start by asking what they have heard or sharing a basic summary of events and then listen to their thoughts and fears. Remember that children interpret events differently based on their own developmental level and personal experience. It is natural for them to ask a lot of questions and seek to understand.
Watch for Signs of Concern. The range of typical responses to traumatic events is broad. Some children are able to move on without major impact to their daily functioning or ability to interact with others. However, significant changes in behavior such as excessive crying, eating and sleeping issues, somatic complaints, intense fear, withdrawal, nightmares, and irritability are signs of possible traumatic stress. Be aware of your own child’s behaviors and seek professional help if things don’t get better.
Limit Access to Media Coverage. It is hard for adults to avoid media coverage of a dramatic situation, and kids are no different. They may hear details of an event from friends, the television, radio, or overhear conversations in public places. You may not be able to insulate your child everywhere, but monitor their access closely. Adults should check in with older children and teens on a regular basis to monitor their exposure and emotions.
Consider Other Risk Factors. If your child already has a mental health condition or struggles with emotional regulation, he or she may be more likely impacted by news of a traumatic event. Kids who have recently experienced a loss or trauma in their own lives can also be at higher risk. Events that are human-caused and include violent deaths are more traumatizing.
Communicate with the School, Social Workers, or other Professionals involved. If you are concerned about your child, please contact the school and CHI. Social Workers, Counselors, and Psychologists can help monitor and support children during the school day and provide you with additional resources. Remind your children of adults who are available to talk, if they are upset. After a major event reminds us of what is important, it can be difficult for parents to leave their children at school. All parents have to use their own judgment, but remember that kids benefit from a regular daily routine and frequently move on emotionally more quickly than adults.
Take Care of Yourself. The best resource for a child’s recovery is a caring adult who is healthy and emotionally available. Make sure you take the time to care for yourself. Adults who are already managing stress from work, relationships and parenting can easily feel overwhelmed when a traumatic event occurs. Help your kids learn health habits by demonstrating them yourself.