How to help children cope after a mass shooting

May 25, 2022 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

When you hear the news about a mass shooting, your first reaction is likely shock and horror, even though it isn’t the first time an incident like this has happened.

As details of the incident emerge — how many people died, who was injured, who did the shooting — you may experience a range of emotions. Anger at the person wielding the gun, confusion over the person’s motives, sadness for those who were hurt or killed, and fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time yourself someday in the future.

On Tuesday, 19 children and two teachers were killed in a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

When senseless acts of violence such as school shootings happen, they catch everyone off guard. The unpredictable nature of these types of incidents adds to our fear.

It can be particularly confusing and frightening for children. Children may feel in danger or worry that their parents, siblings or friends are at risk. They will look to adults for information and guidance on how to react. 

The National Association of School Psychologists provides some ways parents can help children feel safe and secure after an act of violence occurs: 

  • Reassure your child that he/she is safe. Emphasize that schools are very safe. Provide examples of school safety, such as that the outside doors are locked, there are emergency drills in place, etc. 

  • Make time to talk. Let your child's questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. Validate his/her feelings. Be patient, as your child may not talk about their feelings or fears readily. Watch for clues that they maybe ready to share their feelings with you.

  • Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate. Young children do not need lengthy explanations or details, so try to keep it simple and be brief. Middle school age children will need help separating reality from fantasy. Older children and teens will likely have heard details from their friends or media, so try to emphasize their role in safety and how they can access support. 

  • Review safety procedures and safeguards at school and at home. Keep calm and explain how their schools and the police work to keep them safe. Have your child name an adult at school they could go to if they feel scared or threatened.

  • Keep tabs on your child's emotional health. Any changes in eating, sleeping, energy level and mood can indicate their level of anxiety. Watch for regressed behaviors, such as clinging, and intense emotional reactions, such as anxiety. Don’t hesitate to get help from a guidance counselor or behavioral health professional if their anxiety or fear rises to an unhealthy level.

  • Limit exposure to news about the incident. Limit your child's exposure to violent images on television or the internet. Be mindful of how you are talking about these events in front of your child.

  • Keep a regular schedule and routine. Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep, healthy meals and regular exercise. Also, take care of yourself too.

The National Education Association also offers some guidelines on how to address mass shooting incidents with your children.

Also remember to take care of yourself, too. Pay attention to your own emotional and physical health, avoid too much media and talk to others as needed.

The licensed counselors at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health can help people cope with trauma and anxiety. If you feel like you need to talk, support is available.

Get a free behavioral health assessment by a licensed counselor at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

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