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Helping Your Family Cope: Responding to Terrifying Events

When another mass shooting takes place, as a parent it is can be challenging to manage your own reaction while figuring out how what to say to your child. The National Childhood Traumatic Stress Network suggests that parents should start the conversation about what has happened, as not saying anything makes events seem more threatening. (Click here for their brief guide.)

Find out what your child already knows, and listen carefully for misinformation, misconceptions and underlying fears and concerns. Take the time to provide correction information and encourage your child to ask questions. Answer those questions directly, no matter how difficult the question. You might be asked whether something similar could happen here. While it’s important to answer honestly, your child may be looking for reassurance that your family will be safe. Find the right moment to talk about your own family’s plan for keeping safe in a crisis.

Limit media exposure, especially for very young children. Be aware that the constant barrage of news updates repeating the same information, especially when audio or video recordings of the attack are played, can be very disturbing to a child. Limit your own exposure to the coverage so that you can focus on what your child needs.

Don’t be surprised if your child’s behavior changes, even if you have a teen. Even if your teen isn’t talking, they may be thinking about what has happened. Keep the conversation going, be patient with your family (and yourself) and provide an extra dose of comfort and understanding. Reach out for help if you are worried that a family member doesn’t “bounce back” in a reasonable time. Sometimes traumatic events act as a kind of emotional trigger.

Be a positive role mode, express empathy for victims, and use this as an opportunity to share ideas for coming with difficult situations like this tragedy. Find the good in the story — how first responders acted, how people helped and protected each other or the people who lined up to give blood. While there may not be a concrete way to help in the way we sent relief supplies and contributions to Porto Rico and Mexico after the hurricane and earthquake — thoughts and prayers for the victims is an affirmation of care and concern that is important to express and share with your family.