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Taking care of ourselves and our children in the wake of trauma and tragedy

When traumatic events happen in our world, it can be difficult to process.

School

The thought of dropping off a child at school, only to never pick them up again, is a parent’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately, school shootings are a horrifying possibility for families every day. The recent massacre in Uvalde, Texas has shaken our country as innocent children and teachers had their futures robbed from them and their lives taken too soon. This, coupled with events in Buffalo, New York, and Laguna Woods, California – among other traumas – could be taking a toll on us emotionally.

These kinds of tragedies are unthinkable. They can be too much to even think about, let alone talk about with the children in our lives, who might be experiencing their own feelings of uncertainty, fear, anguish, and confusion. These are necessary conversations, though, as young people have the news at their fingertips and might have questions – some of which we may be asking ourselves.

Before we’re able to address these events at home with our loved ones, we have to check on how we’re doing. As parents, or even just as human beings, hearing about yet another school shooting might bring up some intense emotions – sadness, anger, or even numbness. We may even feel relieved that we are able to hold our own babies at home, which could lead to feelings of guilt and grief for those who can’t. The bottom line is, we all have to give ourselves grace. We are all processing our individual feelings and we deserve to let ourselves experience the emotions this trauma may bring.

When it comes to children, they may be looking to us, the adults in their lives, for explanations and reassurance. A child’s response to such awful news can depend on several factors such as their age, how much trauma they’ve experienced in the past, and if the victims of the tragedy were their peers. No matter their reaction, it could take time for them to feel comfort as they process the events on their own terms.

The American Psychological Association offers the following advice for working through our own feelings while providing support for our kids.

Starting the conversation
Talking to children about their worries and concerns is the first step to help them feel safe and begin to cope with the events occurring around them. What we talk about and how we say it does depend on their age, but all children need to be able to know we are a safe space for them.

  • We can focus on finding times when kids are most likely to talk, such as when riding in the car, before dinner or at bedtime.
  • We can listen for misinformation or misperceptions about the events, gently correct them, and express our own thoughts, while acknowledging that it is okay to disagree.
  • We can reinforce ideas of safety and security by sharing what schools and communities are doing to increase safety.

Seeing the signs of stress, fear or anxiety
After traumatic events, children and adults may experience trouble sleeping, difficulty with concentrating on school work or home responsibilities, changes in appetite, and changes in mood. We can encourage our families to put our feelings into words by talking about them together or journaling. Some children may find it helpful to express their feelings through art, such as drawing/painting pictures, telling stories, etc.

Taking "news breaks"
This can be beneficial for us and our kids. We all may want to stay informed about the details of the events, but we also have to be mindful of the risks of consuming too much information. Exposing ourselves and our children to too much information can actually heighten anxiety and fears.

We are not alone. As humans, we are all in this together. This horrifying tragedy is unthinkable and unimaginable, but we can continue to extend kindness to ourselves and each other as we navigate this difficult time.

It’s important to remember that it’s okay if we can’t move past this tragedy. It’s completely understandable if we or our children are having trouble moving on or are feeling stuck or overwhelmed. There is help available. Burrell’s free, 24/7 crisis lines are available across Missouri for anyone who needs to talk or would like to get connected to local resources.

Burrell’s Be Well Community is also available for virtual connection and self-care on Wednesdays via Facebook Live. The Be Well experts share the resource below.


Here are additional resources that could help.

For adults:
Managing your distress in the aftermath of a shooting (apa.org)
How To Cope With The Latest School Shooting If You're A Parent | HuffPost Life
Mental Illness Too Often Wrongly Associated With Gun Violence | Psychiatric News (psychiatryonline.org)
Resources for Victims and Survivors of Gun Violence | Everytown Support Fund | Everytown Support Fund

For children:
Resource Library on Guns and Violence (aacap.org)
Psychological First Aid for Schools (PFA-S) Field Operations Guide | The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (nctsn.org)
Helping Children Cope with Traumatic Events - HelpGuide.org
Guide: Talking to Children about Tragedies | National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement (schoolcrisiscenter.org)
Talking to kids about school shootings: Advice to ease their anxiety : Shots - Health News : NPR
Helping Children Cope with Traumatic Events - HelpGuide.org

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