From the time we all learned of the horrific shootings in CT., many people have asked me to comment, and talk about what to say to our children.
What comes to my mind first is, as adults we need to remain calm and caring when listening to our children's thoughts and as we're sharing the facts. In order to do so, we need to get our own emotions in check and know where we stand on issues of gun control, metal detectors in schools, mental illness and other related issues. It is our job as parents to bring up these difficult conversations, have the ability to listen to our children's thoughts, and provide responses relative to our values. It's important to answer kids' questions in ways that are appropriate to their developmental level.
Children's reactions will vary depending on their age, personality, temperament and life experience. But regardless of any of those variables, random acts of violence often make people feel vulnerable, powerless, fearful and worried about their own safety.
It's important to familiarize yourself with stress symptoms, knowing that children exhibit stress differently. Children of elementary school age sometimes will regress. They may be agitated and have tantrums, or on the other hand, be clingy and have poor concentration. Sleep issues often arise, including bed wetting or nightmares.
Middle school age children can exhibit issues at home and at school. They may have physical complaints such as headaches or stomach aches. Their school performance can go down. Signs to look for also include changes in their social behavior. Some kids may withdraw from their friends while others may only want to spend time with their peers. They may be more irritable and frustrated with parents.
High school age kids can have some of the same behaviors already mentioned, including conflicts with peers, parents, physical complaints and sleep problems. In addition, they may lack energy, seem unconcerned about those around them and seem to retreat into their own world.
As parents, our job is to share the facts in a caring manner. Sometimes it can be helpful to provide a vehicle for expressing fear and anxiety such as drawing or journal-writing. The important message is, it's ok to be afraid and at the same time, reassure them by saying these random acts of violence are not common. You can add that all the adults in their lives are working very hard to ensure everyone's safety.
Routine instills calm and security in children as well, so pay attention to healthy meals, and going to bed on time. Its ok to turn the tv off. Encourage students to support one another in the middles school and high school ages. Ask them about how they have dealt with fear and anxiety in the past and encourage them to employ these strategies now. Overall, validate their emotions, allow them to have a full range of emotions/reactions, and offer understanding.