The school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas left the school staff, community members, and parents feeling frightened and overwhelmed. How do we reconcile what happened in Santa Fe and model strength and resilience to our children? How do we attend funerals of young people who were at the desk next to our children every day? How do we offer comfort when we ourselves feel frightened and unsure? These are questions on parents’ minds as they prepare to send their children back to school.
No one said being parent was easy, and it is especially true now. Your children are looking to you for guidance, reassurance, and healthy coping skills. Below are important points you will want to make sure you talk about and practice with your children:
Validate your child’s feelings. The most important thing is to acknowledge how this tragedy has left our children feeling. Don’t try to avoid the pain by covering it up or using distractions as a form of healing. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and anger will only worsen if your child is not able to talk about the incident and begin the process of healing.
Have clear boundaries and enforce them. Kids who are hurting may be more aggressive at home, and they need strong parental boundaries to protect them. Hitting walls or being disrespectful to a sibling is not a healthy way to deal with anger. Parents must step in and encourage healthy ways to deal with anger with exercise, writing, and coloring books.
Teach your child relaxation methods and do them together. Your children watch you, and they will do what you do. Telling them to relax is not as powerful as meditating with them, attending a yoga class together, or doodling with them. Kids who know how to calm themselves have more confidence and can handle hardship better.
Take a break and try a “time in.” A “time in” is your presence – being totally non-judgmental and there for your child. Talk about how they’re feeling. When they tell you they are sad, don’t react by trying to cheer them up; sit with them in their sadness. When a child understands they don’t have to “act happy” or fake a feeling, they are more open and honest. Your non-judgmental presence allows them to be real, which deepens trust.
Hold firmly to your values and live them. Your children develop their moral values by watching what you do, not what you say. Show them you are hopeful that you can make a difference in a world of violence. Encourage them with your behavior by facing your fears, managing your stress, reaching out to others who are hurting, and practicing your faith. Help your children understand that, during times of chaos, we are all connected.
As we send our children back to school, we do so with a hopeful heart and fear. Talking to your children and taking this step together will help you both feel stronger and more connected to the values that help you endure life’s tragic times.