When a tragedy happens, our tendency is to stay glued to the TV or media sources for the latest and up-to-date information. We are trying to make sense out of the senselessness. Trying to understand how something like this could happen and put some details around incomprehensible and horrific events.
As adults with fully formed brains, we are able to contextualize the events in a timeline that helps insulate us from what we call secondary traumatization. Subconsciously (or sometimes consciously) we remind ourselves that we are safe, that this kind of thing happens rarely, or that we believe in the good of most people to help or rescue if there was a problem.
However, children are not developmentally able to do that. Often their sense of impending doom increases as they see the media coverage over and over. They may sense that the events are happening repeatedly or that there are many “bad-guys” out to get them. They feel vulnerable and overwhelmed. It’s important to note that pre-verbal and early-verbal kids will probably not have the vocabulary to use to ask to be reassured or to get more information.
It’s important for parents and care-givers to remind children that there are a lot of people in the world who are working hard to make sure they are safe.
- Get visual. You might use some kind of visual picture to represent all the schools that were safe the day that Sandy Hook was not. Find something you have around the house to visually represent for your kids the many schools that were safe - Legos or craft beads. Talk about how many are in the safe pile compared to the single bead in the unsafe pile.
- Put a name with the face. Does your child’s school have a police officer or security guard? Introduce your child to the officer (maybe take a picture of the two of them together). It helps make the concept of safety understandable when there is a name and a face to put with it.
- Get back to your routine. Limit your child’s access to media and get back to doing what they are accustomed to doing – playing, going to school, spending time with friends, etc.
These are just some general thoughts, your child and family are unique and everyone needs something different to prevent getting stuck in grief. If you notice that your child is experiencing distress or acting out, they might need some more help.