Combating Distress in Light of the Recent Horrific School Shooting By: Leah Nathan Ph.D.

So, the extended weekend is now over and your children transitioned back to school after the tragic shooting that occurred last week. Chances are this horrific incident is still on their mind. The catastrophic shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School has evoked nationwide concerns about our children’s safety. Deeply saddened by the senseless loss of lives, many wonder how to respond to their children’s questions, how to support school administrators, and how to develop effective coping strategies. Here are some tips:

1.First — know that this is a traumatic experience for both adults and children. Your children need validation for how they feel. It is a time when they are going to experience a wide array of emotions to include fear, anger, sadness, apprehension, doubt, etc. Further compounding this traumatic incident is that your children may also be inundated with the stress from the family discord as you navigate through the divorce process. Therefore, it is important to closely monitor your child’s emotional health. If you notice any concerning changes in their demeanor, consider contacting a mental health professional. If you are not sure of the legal parameters affecting this decision within your particular custody arrangement, please be sure to first consult with your attorney. Also, remember that is important to reassure your children that you love them and provide unconditional positive regard.

2. During this time, it is not uncommon for your child to question their own safety both at home and at school. School is, after all, supposed to be a safe place yet this tragedy occurred. Likewise, your child may have thought that their family would be together forever, yet there is a divorce. Children need to know that there are safety parameters in place. Therefore, it is important to review all safety procedures. Knowing what to do in the event of an emergency can deescalate the anxiety.

3. Talk to your children about their day and inquire if there are any social media concerns. Enabling parental controls on your child’s electronic device will allow you to monitor your children’s internet activities. Often times, children use social media as a platform to express their distress. Therefore, encouraging your child to report any unusual, suspicious, or concerning behaviors of their peers can empower them to take action.

4. Some characteristic symptoms of trauma and situational stress include change in sleep patterns and increased hypervigilance. Children may need to sleep with a night light or playing relaxing sounds as a part of their bedtime routine. There is a plethora of research on the mental health benefits of practicing mindfulness. There are free breathing/meditation apps that you can download from the convenience of your phone. Take some time to explore these options. Adding a yoga class is a good stress relief outlet and can strengthen your bond to your child.

5. Taking action to collaborate with your child’s school administrators is a good way for you to become even more invested in your child’s life and reassure them that their safety is paramount. The Army and Department of Homeland Security are collaboratively developing a virtual reality training program that is scheduled to be launched in Spring 2018. Join in the efforts to make school safety a priority. Also, the National Association of School Psychologists is a very resourceful website. Below is a link with further useful tips. You can also share this with the administrators at your children’s school as well: https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources/school-safety-and-crisis/talking-to-children-about-violence-tips-for-parents-and-teachers

This traumatizing event may have triggered a sense of loss within your own family. Take some time to read about Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s work on the grief cycle. It will help to frame what you are experiencing. Know that it is OK to grieve and it is OK to feel a sense of loss. Joining a grief and loss support group may be helpful. The Wendt Center for Loss and Healing is a very good option for adults, children, and families.

Take care of yourself and your family during this time.

Leah L. Nathan, Ph.D. Psychologist/Divorce Coach

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