The massive shooting in Las Vegas has us all asking the same question: why? We wanted to believe it would never happen again after Newtown, Connecticut, but then the Orlando, Florida shooting happened. Rather than simply tuning out from what happened, I encourage you to talk to your children about it.
How do we talk to our children when senseless, horrific killings happen? This is one of those situations that parents find so difficult. When random violence, it’s hard to imagine having no control over the situation. When someone wants to kill and is prepared to die themselves then the best anyone can do is to protect themselves from the person’s rage.
Consider this to be a process and let it unfold rather than trying to force the conversation. Your child will be able to understand or at least be less afraid from it happening to them as time goes on. As a parent, your immediate concern is with the safety of your child and creating a plan to feel more confident and in control. The suggestions below will help you help your child. If you notice your child is anxious and fearful for more than two weeks consistently, it will be helpful to talk to your pediatrician and perhaps a counselor.
Don’t assume what they are afraid of. Specifically ask them their fears so you won’t introduce another possible fear. If they mention they are afraid of the bad man shooting them, validate that by saying it’s natural to feel that way, but also tell them you are going to do everything you can to keep them safe.
Limit the news in your home regarding the tragedy. Children don’t understand the replays, and they may think each time they view the incident it is happening again. The visual and audio components may create anxiety, nightmares, and depression.
As much as possible, stay on your routine at home. This will give your child stability and reduce anxiety.
This is an excellent time to set up an emergency plan in your own home. Children feel better when they have parent who take on a leadership role.
Take extra time at night to read stories, watch movies, or say prayers. This is a time when questions come up that parents can use to help understand how their child is processing the tragedy. Remember that children’s brains work differently than adults. Listen so that you can better ascertain where your child is having a difficult time with the shooting.
This is a good time to bring your spiritual beliefs to the forefront. Lighting a candle or planting a tree for the children who lost their lives is important. It helps your child see that no matter what happens, people care and remember. Spirituality gives us strength beyond our human capacity.
Use this crisis as an opportunity to help others. Send a care package to first responders in the area affected or reach out to community service people with thank-you cards. When children feel like there is something they can do to help others, they’re able to move past grief and into the healing stage. Teaching compassion and empathy to our children builds a stronger community and society in the future.
Grieving with your child will help them heal. Children grieve much differently than adults. Their time frame isn’t the same as ours. They may be playing and jumping around one minute, and sitting alone by a tree the next. Grieving in children isn’t normal for adults to witness, and we want to cheer them up. This is a time to acknowledge when they are sad and then brainstorm with them what they can do (with your help) to feel better.
Remember that parents are a barometer for their children, and children are skilled with reading their parent’s emotions. Before you talk to your children, make sure you know how you feel about what happened. If you are anxious or not ready to help your child feel secure, delay talking with them about it.
You cannot undo what has happened, nor can you ever go back and make believe it didn’t. We are all living a “new world.” Parents hold the key with helping children grieve, embrace compassion, and grow forward with less hate and fear in their hearts.