How Can We Help Our Kids Cope After Events Like Newtown and the Boston Bombing?

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They don't need to be scarred for life, a lot of them will not be scarred by life because for most of them, for the rest of their life they won't experience anything, anywhere near as horrific as what happens to them on that day. They have to relearn that they are safe and so day after day, is another experience, another piece of evidence that they are safe and relatively in control and have some power over keeping themselves safe day by day and you want to put in an effort to demonstrate that to kids.

So I've worked with some kids from Newtown and one thing we've talked about is locking doors at night, and having security systems, and seeing the sticker, and having the sticker on your door and having security guards at school. Basically heightening their awareness of all of the safety measures around them to provide reassurance that they are safe because that's what happens is they're at risk of developing a belief that they are largely unsafe and the world is largely unpredictable and that's actually just inaccurate so we don't want them to develop that belief though they had a statistically, where an awful thing happened to them.

It's true that something terrible could happen to any of us at any moment and yet that isn't a helpful thought to carry around with you so we try to help kids to develop healthy thinking and to challenge unhelpful thoughts, because we have to get through the day, day by day, and that interferes with our ability to do that if we're constantly thinking in the back of our head am I unsafe right now? You want to take natural safety precautions, so you want to look both ways before you cross the street, you want to make sure you lock your doors at night but you don't want to become hyper vigilant or hyper aware of your safety because that really interferes with your ability to live an enjoyable life.

Families need to know how important it is to acknowledge that the traumatic event occurred, silence is not golden, talk to your kids about it, be brief, be honest, explain safety in concrete terms, don't use euphemisms. Do you want to hear more about their questions and concerns? And sometimes parents presume that kids are thinking the same things that grown ups are, so they give lots of information that kids don't even need and either they check out or it plants more concerns and confusion than they originally had.

You don't need to give lengthy explanations, you actually only need to give a little bit at a time and let your child ask for more if he or she may want more and then you can give a little bit more after that. Also kids take in just a little bit at a time so you have to be patient and let them sort of process it and then come back.

So you have to have multiple conversations over the span of time. And I learnt this from a girl I worked with who was at Sandy Hook the day of the shooting and her mum has given me permission to talk about her in a de-identified way, what happened with her is she wasn't worried that she was unsafe going to school or generally unsafe in the world, what she was worried about was that her teacher who died would be hurt again by guns and gunmen in heaven.

So that isn't the worry that we would presume she would have, and so that's why it's so important to ask kids where they're stuck and what they're thinking. As in all dramatic events that happen to kids, it's often almost harder on the parent, it's the one thing in life that you want to keep your child safe and to have that threatened, is devastating.

So what the parent need to do is talk to other grown ups and be aware that they may want to keep their children back, and they might want to collude in avoidance of school, because they too may be so scared that their child won't be safe, and that's not good for their child and it's not good for the parent either to constantly have that worry, it's not easy and it takes time, certainly it takes time, but you want to be aware that that could be going on.

And kids look to their parents for guidance on how to cope with things like this.