I am not a professional expert on this but do have experience talking to and trying to soothe my own kids after violent events. Fortunately my son was too young to remember the Columbine shootings when we were living in Littleton, Colorado, but we lived in New York on 9/11 and they were inside the house when I was held up at gunpoint in our driveway in Johannesburg, South Africa. Violent crime was so common there that the subject of personal safety came up all the time.
After the latest school shooting in the U.S. yesterday, I thought I’d offer some ideas that may help you support your teenagers when you struggle to find words to make sense of senseless acts and to soothe their broken hearts and their worried minds.
Say yes to trauma counseling
Getting support from a professional trauma therapist within 48 hours made all the difference after my robbery. She helped me understand how my natural stress response would play out in my body and mind over the next few days and how to minimize its long-term impact. Positive actions she recommended included exercising to shake off the stress hormones and processing the event mentally and emotionally in a way that made me feel safer sooner. There are other good ideas the therapist can give your child — or you.
See and soothe them
Notice how they’re acting and if they seem more anxious, withdrawn or just different than usual. Try to keep your own fears in check (kids pick up on our energy so fast) and offer whatever helps them feel comforted at home. Soothing for one child might mean talking about what’s bothering them; for another it might mean putting it out of their minds just long enough to play a video game or listen to loud music.
One thing I’ve found with my kids is that they don’t want me to try and fix things, they just want me to be there for them and say, “I understand that it’s awful and I’m so sorry you’re going through it.” They could tell if I needed to feel that they were okay, and that ‘pressure’ would make them want to leave the room. Let them feel bad. At various times I slept in their beds, stayed in their rooms until they fell asleep, or just let them sleep with the light on.
Look for the helpers
There are always more people trying to help than there were people being destructive. As Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Bad SUCKS and feels huge, but good is bigger.
Help them get out of their own heads
When they’re ready, it can help them to get the kind of perspective offered by gratitude, spirituality or volunteering to help someone else — to BE one of the helpers. It can add some meaning to your child’s life and help them expand their focus beyond the incident that triggered their struggling.
Other helpful types of counseling
Ongoing therapy for anxiety or grief might be necessary or helpful. Help them get whatever they need. Processing trauma can be complicated and lengthy.
If tragedy like this has entered your lives, I offer blessings and strength to you and your child. If you have gone through something like this and have suggestions for other parents, please share them in the comments.