When something scary happens in a place that is supposed to be safe? There’s a lot to consider:
PART 1: Understand trauma, it’s potential impact, and when to be concerned.
PART 2: As a caregiver, how do you process the trauma so you can be available to your child or student.
PART 3: What’s the best way to communicate and discuss trauma with teens?
Read on for Part 1 of our three-part series. Check out Part 1 and Part 3 for more information.
If your child has experienced a traumatic event, chances are you might also have experienced a heightened reaction to this, particularly in the case of school shooting. You likely heard about the incident long before it was resolved or you could reunite with your loved ones. You also likely had limited communication and information. Furthermore, even if you are told that your child is physically safe, you won’t really know this until you see and touch them for yourself. Knowledge is gained through what we know, but what we experience offers more powerful, certain knowledge. That means you had a lot of time to worry and fear for your child and the rest of those involved in the incident. If you’re like most parents, your worry didn’t stop at being assured that your child was physically safe. Now the worry moves beyond the physical safety, and you start to worry about your child’s emotional well-being and how the event affected them and what to do to support them.
Truly, the most important thing after a child has experienced a potentially traumatic event, is to check in with yourself to understand your own emotions and processing of events. Knowing where you’re at emotionally will allow you to support them and have conversations without adding unintentional stress. That’s because kids and teens can be incredibly skilled at reading people, especially the adults they trust. They can feel your own anxiety and fear. As parents, we know it’s normal to have your own fears and insecurities as well as need to process traumatic events on your own. We know how hard this can be. So here’s what you can do:
- Educate yourself about trauma (see Part 1) so you understand what you or your child might be experiencing.
- Literally ask yourself, what am I feeling?
- Notice whether your body feels any differently, whether it feels on edge, heightened, sick in the stomach, or “off” in any way. Chances are that’s part of a stress reaction.
- Process your feelings with another adult outside of the home so that you can process and contain your own distress. But be aware of who’s listening, as children are often listening to adult conversations.
- Talk to your spouse or partner about what you’re feeling so you both feel supported and provide a united front.
- Likewise, tag your spouse, partner, or another caregiver to help support your child if you recognize you need some space to process.
- Take care of yourself. It’s easy to become overly-focused on everyone else and supporting everyone else. Take some time for yourself to engage in self-care. Self-care can look like a lot of things, listening to music, doing something creative, cooking a good meal, taking a walk or exercising, talking with a friend, making your bed, starting the day fresh, meditating, journaling, reading, coloring or doing arts and crafts, knitting, drinking tea, getting a good night’s sleep. One aspect of self-care is engaging in activities that fill you up and make you feel good and regulate or calm you. If you don’t have a lot of time, find small ways to engage in these activities, and hopefully find a way to make time for self-care that might take longer.
- Seek out your own help. It’s a lot to hold and you may be experiencing symptoms of trauma from the event as well. Seeking support for yourself is also modeling reaching out for support.
- Know that you are doing the best you can for the situation you are in with the information you have. You will figure this out if you remain curious, acknowledge where you’re at emotionally, and notice what’s working and what’s not.
For a more in-depth resource and guide age by age, check out The Child Mind Institute’s Helping Children Cope after a Traumatic Event
Resources from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)
- Talking to Children about Violence: Tips for Families and Educators
- Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers
Raising Good Humans Podcasts: S2 Ep 45: How to Have Hard Conversations With Kids: The War in Ukraine