Kim Beair, MS, LPC, NCC & Dr. Kara Beair, DO
Inspiring Strategies for Success by Friends & Experts You Can Trust
Tragedies in America impact citizens of every age group. Incidents like Columbine and Connecticut trickle down to children because the whole country is traumatized when the innocent are targeted. Parents, school officials, politicians, churches and law enforcement go into “protect” mode as policies and procedures are frantically examined to ensure acts like this are minimized for the future. It would be nearly impossible to keep news of this nature from impacting your children, so it is best to immediately take a proactive stance.
Some children may not react at all, and some may react with a wide array of behaviors or medical symptoms. Depending on their ages and developmental stages, behaviors such as irritability, anger, nightmares, confusion, bed wetting, acting out in school, regression, thumb sucking, forgetfulness, distraction, insomnia and physical symptoms can begin to present themselves. You may notice them immediately or even days or weeks after a tragedy of this magnitude.
In situations like this honesty and simplicity are best. Because news reports change by the minute, discrepancies in the event are rampant. Follow these guidelines to help your children effectively cope during this sad time in America:
Keep it Honest – tell them what you know in very simple terms your child can understand, based on his or her age and developmental stage. Avoid terms such as “passed away” or “they are asleep” when describing the victims. This can be confusing to small children while creating additional anxiety.
Keep it Short – elementary school kids don’t need to know all the details so keep your explanations to around three sentences. Older children may want to process further but keep your initial statements short and responding to their questions accordingly.
Keep it Simple – if they ask you probing questions, let them know that there are people in the world who do awful things every day and we cannot always explain why. News reports are shedding light on this issue as a potential family violence event. Young children who are told too much may produce anxieties when family arguments arise or other times when there is normal conflict in the home or at school. Around 9 or 10 years of age a child can begin to process this information without as much stress as younger children, so listen and respond if they exhibit anxiety or fear.
Keep Their Fears in Check – ask them what they have heard and how they are feeling about it. Let them know you sometimes become afraid as well when these things happen, and as a family you can help each other by talking about it openly. Discuss security measures at schools, churches and other public places, and how they can be observant to their surroundings in a healthy way to ensure they feel safer when they are out. Make sure you are available when they need to talk. Hug or comfort them as much as necessary, and let them know they are safe.
Keep Your Family Faith in the Forefront – whatever your spiritual, religious or moral credos are, use them! Prayer or meditation for healing of those involved will help your child feel less helpless. Encourage your child to also pray for their own school, as well as other schools around the country to be protected. Lastly, if your faith has a book, and most of them do, select short passages of encouragement or comfort the children can repeat to themselves.
Keep Your Eye on Physical Symptoms that Present Themselves – many children will be right up front with their feelings. Many other children will be absorbing this information as the days and weeks unfold, and you won’t even realize it. These children may begin to exhibit physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches, as well as difficulty breathing. Always have them examined first by their physician to ensure they are treated for any diseases that are making the rounds. If their physician cannot pinpoint a medical problem, it could be stress they are not expressing outwardly. Keep lines of communication open so when they are ready to talk, you are ready to respond, and keep the child’s medical and/or behavioral health team in the loop.
Keep Watch on Your Words – it is easy to think children are not picking up on conversations or news reports because they are playing or distracted, or in another room of the house. This could not be further from the truth. Just when you think your child who never picks up on anything is safe, you may learn that all of a sudden he or she has been processing every piece of information that has filtered through your home. As much as possible, focus on normal daily activities and once the issue has been addressed, put your focus back on daily life.
Kim Beair, MS, LPC, NCC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and National Certified Counselor in the State of Oklahoma.
Dr. Kara Beair, DO, is a Resident Physician in Internal Medicine/Pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine.
DISCLAIMER: The information presented on this email or blog and any related links is provided for educational, informational, and entertainment purposes only. You must never consider any of the information presented here as a substitute for consulting with your physician or health care provider for any medical/mental health conditions or concerns. Any information presented here is general information, is not medical advice, nor is it intended as advice for your personal situation. Please consult with your physician or health care provider if you have concerns about your health or suspect that you might have a problem.