When traumatic events like school shootings are in the news, parents and caregivers are often processing their own feelings while supporting their children in navigating this difficult information. For younger kids, this may be seeing their parents’ reactions and emotions to the news, while teens may be scrolling social media and discussing the event with their friends.
Traumatic events can change the way a child understands the world and undermine their idea of the world as a safe place. Because of this, time is of the essence when children internalize information like this – worries about traumatic events can linger and result in fear, anxiety, etc. The most important thing parents and caregivers can do after traumatic events is to double down on providing a reassuring, consistent relationship with their children.
Healing happens in relationships, so having an open line of conversation will give them space to share any worries they have, address questions or acknowledge emotions.
Caring staff at Boys & Girls Clubs create safe, inclusive spaces to have open dialogues with young people to check in on their emotional and mental health. As a national organization, Boys & Girls Clubs of America provides immediate resources to Clubs to further support their trauma-informed approach after tragedy strikes. Clubs also partner with organizations like the Crisis Text Line and Mental Health First Aid to ensure kids and families have access to resources that can help them during critical times.
Here are some ways to talk with your child or teen about traumatic events:
Process your own emotions.
Label your own emotions and use self-care strategies. Monitor your own media intake and step away when you need to. Your child looks to you as a role model for how to feel about and cope with these incidents.
Keep kids’ routines in place.
Kids expect their daily routines, which provide a sense of control and comfort. Continuing to provide that consistency will help lessen their sense of stress or confusion. For younger kids, they often deal with stress through play.
Initiate an age-appropriate dialogue.
If your child is young, this may be as simple as getting an understanding of what they know to see if you need to address any worries or thoughts they’re having. It might be as simple as sharing, “Mom/Dad/Caregiver is feeling sad because there are some tough things going on in the world. When I am sad, I take some time to be sad and then I like to think about what makes me happy, like you.” For teens who are aware of news headlines, show them that you are aware of what is going on and are here to support them by bringing up difficult topics.
For older youth, address the incident directly and show willingness to answer questions.
To get the dialogue started, ask teens what they have heard and what they know about the incident. Teens will feel more comfortable discussing the incident if they know you are willing to answer questions and listen to their concerns.
Validate and listen to feelings.
Ask your child to share their feelings about the incident. Be careful not to prompt them (“Are you worried? Scared?)” and create anxiety or fear they didn’t have, but give space for them to sift through and name their feelings. By listening to their feelings, you’ll validate any range of emotions they’re going through and be better able to support them.
Continue to check in.
Especially for older youth, check back in regularly during the coming weeks to see how they are coping with and processing the incident. Feelings may shift and change as they talk to friends, etc.
Provide outlets to express their emotions.
Choose age-appropriate ways to channel stress and other big emotions. As mentioned earlier, younger kids feeling stressed will often channel it through play. Set up activities and projects that allow kids to relieve stress and express themselves, while giving you both quality time together. For teens who are action-oriented and wondering about being part of solutions, ask, "What can we do to create positive change in our Club, school or community?" and support them in starting a meaningful project, joining a club or group, etc.
You can learn more about Boys & Girls Clubs “Be There” initiative, supported by the New York Life Foundation, here: /kids-in-need/initiatives/be-there
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This article was previously posted on 9/8/2021.