By Beth Hail, Centerstone
Even though we may be nearly a thousand miles away from the small town of Newtown, Conn., the tragic shooting still hits close to home for all of us – including children of all ages.
Although children are physically smaller than adults, they can experience equally powerful emotions. They often take in more information than we realize and are acute observers of the world around them, especially of television images, and internet and radio messages. The way children interpret these images and information is quite different from adults, and it can have a great deal of effect on their emotions and well-being, possibly causing stress, grief, depression and several other psychological and physical symptoms.
Parents can focus on a few key areas that will help them support their children through these tough times.
Talk, Ask and Listen
It’s important to educate yourself – not only about the news, but about children’s reactions to traumatic events. With the pervasiveness of today’s media, it’s likely that even young children have heard about the tragedy in Connecticut. The best way to support your child is to talk with him/her about it.
In doing this, remember children may react differently according to their age. Start by simply asking what your child may already know about the event, and listen carefully for any concerns or fears. Also, take time to correct any misconceptions or inaccuracies. The information we know about the shooting is changing daily, and will continue to do so as facts become available.
It is important to remember that while media can be very helpful in educating and informing us about everyday news and events, it also can be very damaging and upsetting, especially to children. It is a parent’s responsibility to help their children understand coverage that may be confusing, and you can do this by encouraging them to share their thoughts and feelings, while at the same time offering support in times like these. Discuss news stories with your children and seize the opportunity to communicate with them.
When May a Child
Need Professional Help?
Common reactions to a tragedy may include a loss in concentration, irritability or defiance. Other children may become troubled when separated from their parents. Being a strong support system for your children through tragic times is especially important to help prevent these reactions. In some cases, increased stress may continue to push children beyond their level of coping, but they have ways of communicating to us that they need help. Below are some indications that your child may be feeling overwhelmed:
Significant changes in sleep patterns such as sleeping restlessly, nightmares, or having major difficulties getting out of bed in the morning;
Significant changes in eating patterns such as lack of appetite or overeating (accompanied by significant weight loss or weight gain);
Noticeable drop in school grades or performance including difficulty concentrating or getting homework completed;
Increased irritability, crying, or tantrums, and inability to get along with others;
And frequent physical complaints, such as stomachaches or headaches, without medical evidence of a physical problem.
If your child exhibits these symptoms over a period of time, you may want to seek professional assistance from a counselor or mental health provider. Centerstone staff members are available anytime at (888) 291-4357.
Beth Hail, LCSW, is Centerstone’s director of school-based services. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Centerstone, a not-for-profit provider of community-based behavioral healthcare, provides a range of programs and services for children, adolescents, adults, seniors, and families living with mental health or addiction disorders.