Days after the Sandy Hook school shooting, my 10-year-old son and I were drawing pictures together.
Within a few minutes of drawing, he made a picture of a man with two guns. When I asked who it was he replied, “The bad shooter man from Connecticut.”
Then he drew lines on top of the man and a sign on top that said, “JAIL.” He stated, “This is where bad men should go.”
Even though I had done all I could to shield my son from the events of the shooting, even though I never watched the television news stories in front of him, he had picked up on the nature of the event and had heard about it that very day at his school. Our children are not immune to the immense nature of such violent national events. These events have penetrated the collective psyche, reaching even our youngest.
Children need not be present at a violent event to feel impacted by it. They may experience very real consequences, such as:
1. Having an increase in fear and anxiety
2. Feeling unsafe and fearful of danger
3. Needing more reassurance than normal
4. Having a hard time concentrating
Clearly, the impact of such an event can trigger a range of concerns in children of all ages. As a parent, you can aid your child by:
1. Talking to your child about the event and his or her feelings about it
2. Doing art together and allowing your child to use creativity as a tool to explore his or her feelings
3. Providing coping tools for dealing with worries, such as deep breathing to relax the body and mind
4. Giving extra hugs and reassurance
5. Spending more one-on-one time with your child
The impact of the event will likely be greater if your child has been exposed to violence or trauma in the past. Know that this is normal and may require assistance by a trained child psychotherapist.
Even without a past history of trauma, children may exhibit a worried response to this national tragedy. Your child will feel better knowing that you are there, ready to provide extra reassurance and acceptance of his or her feelings. Be patient, listen, give extra hugs and respect his or her worries and concerns.
Know that children are resilient and will be able to quickly return to their normal routines. Encourage your child to get out, be with friends and return to his or her innocent life of play.
Marla McMahon is a mom of two boys and a clinical psychologist. In her private practice in Sacramento, California, she works within a mind-body model with patients of all ages, in areas of depression, anxiety and stress reduction using mindfulness-based therapy. In her spare time, Marla enjoys being outside as much as possible and drives the distance to be near the ocean. She also enjoys paddle boarding and hiking, and she is a dedicated yogi and meditator.
Editor: Jayleigh Lewis