Friday, December 14, 2012

School violence: Tips on helping your child manage their emotions

Earlier today we witnessed another tragic school situation in Connecticut. According to the New York Times, 26 people (18 were children) were killed in a shooting this morning at an elementary school in Newton, CT. It was reported that the gunman shot his mother (who is a teacher at the school) and then 18 students in the class. In the wake of many recent school incidents of violence, a huge burden is placed on parents to help their child cope with the traumatizing event. 

Below are a few tips from the American Psychological Association (APA) on managing distress in children:
  • Take "news breaks". Your children may want to keep informed by gathering information about the event from the internet, television, or newspapers. It is important to limit the amount of time spent watching the news because constant exposure may actually heighten their anxiety and fears. Also, scheduling some breaks for yourself is important; allow yourself time to engage in activities you enjoy.
  • Talk with your child. Talking to your 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 you talk about and how you say it does depend on their age, but all children need to be able to know you are there listening to them.
    • Start the conversation; let them know you are interested in them and how they are coping with the information they are getting.
    • Listen to their thoughts and point of view; don't interrupt--allow them to express their ideas and understanding before you respond.
    • Express your own opinions and ideas without putting down theirs; acknowledge that it is okay to disagree.
    • Remind them you are there for them to provide safety, comfort and support. Give them a hug.
  • Keep home a safe place. Children, regardless of age, often find home to be a safe haven when the world around them becomes overwhelming. During times of crisis, it is important to remember that your children may come home seeking the safe feeling they have being there. Help make it a place where your children find the solitude or comfort they need. Plan a night where everyone participates in a favorite family activity.
  • Watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety. After a traumatic event, it is typical for children (and adults) to experience a wide range of emotions, including fearfulness, shock, anger, grief and anxiety. Your children's behaviors may change because of their response to the event. They may experience trouble sleeping, difficulty with concentrating on school work, or changes in appetite. This is normal for everyone and should begin to disappear in a few months. Encourage your children to put their feelings into words by talking about them or journaling. Some children may find it helpful to express their feelings through art.
  • Take care of yourself. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your children. Be a model for your children on how to manage traumatic events. Keep regular schedules for activities such as family meals and exercise to help restore a sense of security and normalcy.
If you find that your child is experiencing significant trauma and emotional difficulties you should consult with the school counselor or seek professional help in your area. It is possible that you may find a resource of providers by searching the website of the psychological association in your state. You can also browse for a psychologist in your area through APA.

Copyright 2012 Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D.
Follow me on Twitter @DrEarlTurner and on Facebook at “Get Psych’d with Dr. T”

American Psychological Association (2011). Helping your child manage distress in the aftermath of a shooting. Obtained December 14, 2012 from
Photo: courtesy of Shannon Hick/The Newton Bee