In the wake of recent school tragedies, many people are asking how to best help children manage anxiety following school shootings. Parents across the country are struggling to find the best ways to address their children’s concerns of safety at school. It is also extremely anxiety provoking for parents and yet what children need is for parents to remain calm and listen to them about their feelings. This can seem easier said than done, particularly because of the fact that these tragedies instill fear in all and seem to be happening more frequently. So what can parents do to quell their child’s concerns and to manage their own anxiety?
Be careful not to minimize.
When children feel worried and upset, it often taps into those same feelings in their parents. For some parents that may be an uncomfortable experience that makes them anxious. As a result this may cause parents to be dismissive or avoidant of conversations about the topic. Regardless of whether children are telling parents about their feelings, they are still feeling them. Avoidance of the topic just shuts the parent out at a time when it is most important for them to be drawn in to their child’s world. Parents need to manage their own anxiety so that they can be capable of addressing the worries of their children.
Validate your child’s emotions.
Anxiety and worry are feelings that are normal to experience following traumatic events. Parents need to validate that the emotions their child is feeling are okay. The very nature of discussing the emotions helps the child to examine them in a way that is more objective and manageable. The key for parents here is to listen with the intent to understand, not to fix. Parents do not need to have a solution in these moments, rather they just need to seek to understand. Acknowledge your child’s emotions but provide reassurance that school administrators and other adults are taking measures to ensure the safety of the children.
Discuss the school’s safety plans.
Let your child know what measures your child’s school has in place to create a safe environment. This can go a long way to helping them manage anxiety following school shootings. Help your child to understand those measures that are in place and answer any questions they may have about them.
Limit exposure to media.
Monitor your child’s exposure to media such as the news, and social media. The events that are covered over and over can be triggering for children, and may make is seem to them that the tragedies are happening more frequently than they actually are and is counterproductive to helping them manage anxiety.
Teach children to be kind and accepting of others who may feel lonely or left out.
Help your child and other children by teaching kindness. Too often school environments can feel non-inclusive to some children, which fosters increased mental health issues. We need children to learn to be kind to their peers, to look for classmates that are struggling and to reach out a hand or let staff and administrators know if there are concerns.
Take care of your own mental health.
If you or other parents you know are struggling to manage anxiety following school shootings, be sure to reach out to a mental health clinician to address your own concerns. It is difficult to help children if you are having trouble managing your own feelings around these experiences. Allow yourself time to grieve the experience, but balance that with self-care and enjoying the small and simple pleasures of life. I have previously stated in another blog that “There is an art to riding the wave of grief.” Knowing when and how to set it aside to filter in other more uplifting aspects of life is important. Learning to navigate that wave is often the key to managing traumas such as this. These events force us to learn new tools that will help us with future challenges. Taking the stance will not be weakened by these tragedies, rather empowered with more information and more inner strength to put toward changing the dynamic in our school systems can be not only a cathartic approach, but sets a wonderful example for children.