The tragic school shooting that occurred last week saddened the nation. For those who lost loved ones, words cannot console the pain. How do we begin to heal the heartbreak? How do we tell our kids to go back to school and feel safe?
I thought about these questions over the last few days. While I don’t have kids, I can only imagine the feelings of surviving families. I also wondered about the families, including young children, who were watching the news unfold on a television screen. How would I handle such a tragedy with my own child?
Most importantly, I would limit access to footage. In this day and age, we can get news every minute of every day. Watching 24-hour news reporting stations can actually make us think that violence is happening at an alarming rate. Local news in the U.S. is heavy on violence and tragedy, and there’s evidence that those who watch more local TV news are more prone to worry about violent crime occurring (2). Along with feelings of fear, constant exposure to violent content can de-stabilize us, increase our own stress, and make us less resilient over time (1).
I would also try to avoid using affirmations like “It’s O.K.” or “Don’t worry.” This can minimize a child’s (or anyone’s) feelings. Instead, acknowledge feelings or fears and let them know that what they feel is normal. A child may want to know why something happened the way it did or who is to blame. Help them to realize we are all human and have the same wants and needs (safety, community, connection, belonging, love, etc.). When those needs are not met at some level and we do not know how to go about securing those feelings, we may begin to think or act a certain way. Teaching children how to cope with emotions is something that is so important at an early age. Unfortunately, the saying still goes – “Kids are resilient!” However, we know we must practice healthy coping mechanisms throughout our lifetime to keep healthy, physically, as well as mentally.
Also, I think its best to remind children that when bad things happen, such as a school shooting, there is heavy investigation that occurs to help prevent it from happening again. The schools play an important role in adapting to new policies and procedures to better protect the students, teachers, and all within the school. Just as much, those within the school play a large part in creating a cohesive environment. Just as teachers and administrators should be monitoring the school, students play a role in watching out for their peers when something doesn’t seem right or when they see someone struggling; something I will talk in depth to my own child about when they are school age. A positive smile or gesture can sometimes change the course of another.
Janae Shillito, Project Coordinator, The Kim Foundation, http://www.thekimfoundation.org/
Janae Shillito is the newest edition to The Kim Foundation and serves as Project Coordinator. She holds two science degrees with her alma maters including the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Janae’s love of volunteering and helping those without a voice created a strong desire to become a part of the non-profit world. She enjoys instructing kickboxing classes, reading a good book, and being outside with her husband, Cory, and Rottweiler, Hank.