Step One: Control media in your home. that goes a long way in keeping the unnecessary exposure down.
First, we must realize and accept that we’re all going to be emotionally devastated and scared for a while. We’re human. We love one another. There’s no way to understand or accept what’s happened in Newtown, Connecticut. It will take time, and further, there’s not much we can do to shield young kids from what’s happened. We can’t stop every bit of information coming at them. Still, young minds don’t have the ability to digest this kind of horrific event (adults barely can). Media at home (such as 24 hr cable news and local news coverage) brings too much information into our homes and in ways that can often be shocking. So keep an eye on how much your family is exposed to. Take media/internet breaks. Be selective of what you watch on TV/Computer.
Step Two: Don’t go it alone.
There’s evidence that hearing about a major tragedy from trusted adults/authority figures (in group settings) – such as at schools or places of worship or organizations that children attend – can go a long way to helping kids know they’re not alone in feeling afraid. It shows them there are strong, calm, caring adults looking out for everyone. Remind your kids of the police and the many “good guys” and systems out there to protect us… be simple and concrete in your explanations.
Step Three: Space out feeling afraid.
Talk about what’s happened, then move off the topic. Don’t spend too much time on it. Breaks are needed for young minds to digest the tragic information. Tell your child “we’ve talked a lot about this – so let’s do something different now – let’s take a walk – toss a ball – go outside for a bit – even though we feel afraid or sad – let’s try to have a little fun – and then we can talk more about this later if you want.”
Step Four: Show your confidence.
Tell your child it’s ok to be scared, and that you feel it too – but reassure very young kids it is not going to happen to them. You must sound confident when you say this. Head up. Eye contact steady. Voice in control. It does no good to sound unsure about their chances of getting similarly hurt. You wouldn’t tell a young child they might die in a plane crash or get hit be a meteorite. They don’t have the ability to think statistically and weigh the odds, as we are able to do. Too much processing and discussion can have the opposite effect and raise anxiety. So again, act confident and think of limiting talk around this with breaks to digest the information.
Step Five: Move into action:
Redirect anxiety to something action oriented, positive, and concrete. Start a small drive/fund to help victims, or put together a supportive letter/video to send to victims’ families… do it as a class project. Work on a program to stop violence and bullying locally. Anxiety can’t spread when we’re mobilized and trying to do something about it. It does, however, fester and grow when we stay inactive.
We’re emotionally distraught as a nation right now. We’re raw and frightened, but know that feeling this way is normal and ok. It’s the natural, and healthy early reaction to shock. More sadness will follow, much anxiety will be mixed in with that too. And soon, with time, we will start to feel safe again… we always recover. That’s the resilient part in all of us.
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