Most parents I know, do their best to shelter kids from the scary news reports of the day, but it isn’t always possible. The recent and horrific story of the Ohio school shooting has left parents and their kids understandably rattled. As is the case with fires, bombs, terrorist attacks, illness, and even natural disasters the question that circles the mind is, “Could this happen to me?”
When your child comes to you with this type of concern, it is important to take him or her seriously and to address the issue directly. Brushing off the concern, or making light of it, could lead to an even greater fear and can even be the origin of later phobias.
Talk to your child about the incident in broad terms and let them know that, while these things can happen, they are very rare and extremely unlikely to happen to them or anyone they know. Let them express their fears and be supportive of their feelings. This may mean a little more together time or temporarily extending the bedtime routine if fears build in the night.
If concerns persist, then talk to your child’s teacher so they are aware of any behavioral changes and can notify you right away. If the event occurred in or near your child’s community, discuss the possibility of support groups at school run by counselors to help alleviate fears that may be widespread. There are currently grief counselors present at the school in Ohio, because of the loss of life that took place, but even kids in surrounding communities will be affected by this news and will need support as well.
If you continue to notice your child is ruminating about possible catastrophic events, or you see signs of behavioral changes, seek the help of a therapist as soon as possible. Changes that might indicate there is a problem could be: alterations in sleeping or eating patterns, drastic changes in weight, reluctance to participate in regularly scheduled activities, or even resistance to attend school at all. The longer these behaviors go untreated the more likely they are to result in serious long-term mental health issues.
It is normal to feel some level of anxiety when we hear about a tragic event; but life, and your feelings about it, should return to a more normal state after a bit of time has passed. Use the discussions you have with your children to teach them empathy. Help them to understand that while we may feel fear, we can also feel sadness and sympathy for those whose lives have been directly affected by the events. Ask them to write a letter expressing their sympathy to those individuals, not necessarily to be sent, but just to be written. Young children can draw pictures expressing their feelings, which can greatly help to alleviate anxiety.
Loss of life, such as those of the students at Chardon High School in Ohio, shakes not just a community but a nation, and the feelings elicited could drive any parent into protective mode over their children. We can teach our children rules of safety and how to identify when something doesn’t feel quite right, but we must send them out into the world with some level of blind faith. This is a challenge that all parents need to face. Even when we ourselves struggle with the notion, it is important to teach our children that the world is generally safe and that most people are basically good.
My heart goes out to the families that lost loved ones this week. This is a time for grieving and for healing and for taking good care of one another.