Supporting Your Children in a Tragedy

When tragedy strikes, like the most recent school shooting in Texas, it is expected for kids (and us adults too!) to feel overwhelmed and experience some anxiety when these events occur. The continuous news reports and conversations surrounding these incidents can contribute to these feelings as well.  

In these moments our children look to us to take their cues on how to cope with their own feelings. When their stress and anxieties increase they rely on the adults in their life to act as a “secure base” from which to process their thoughts feelings and learn to cope in healthy ways. To be this secure base we need to have some awareness of our own feeling states and have healthy outlets and coping for these emotions. If this feels like a big ask when you are grappling with your own thoughts and feelings around senseless violence and tragedy, that’s ok, it is.  

showing emotion

Emotional transparency with your kids, letting them see your feelings and how you cope, is a powerful teaching tool (kids learn more by what we do than what we say).  Phrases like “I’m so angry about this” or “this makes me so sad” gives permission for your kids to express their feelings and provides a model for how to communicate.  

In the context of a school shooting, while dramatic and scary, it can be helpful to remember that they are rare and the drills at their school are designed to help them be safe.  While you can’t promise it won’t happen, it helps kids to have this kind of perspective. 

Here are some additional tips for providing that secure base:

mother talking to daughter
Talk about itIt’s helpful to talk about the incident or circumstance. Your child is already thinking about what is happening, talking about it relieves their worries. Give your child the opportunity to ask questions, share what they are hearing and express their emotions. 
father talking to son on bed
Validate their thoughtsValidating their thoughts and feelings first creates the space for you to then provide them with perspective and hope. 
father talking to child in kitchen
Invite Conversation. Leave the door open for your child to ask questions and share their feelings as they arise.

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