Here a few things to think about when talking to your child:
- Choose a time that is conducive for this discussion. Avoid talking to your child about this early in the morning before school or before they go to bed.
- Take time to really listen to their concerns and validate the very real feelings they are experiencing without interrupting them. Gently assure them that they are not alone in what they are feeling. Give them praise for their communication with you.
- Help them understand that some things are difficult to explain even for adults, however, reassure them that this is a rare event and not something that happens every day.
- If they have questions about why this person would hurt others, be honest and tell them that those answers are still being figured out and that as soon as you know more, you will talk with them about this.
- Your child may ask about mental illness after hearing something from school or in the media. Explain to them that some people struggle with mental health difficulties and in some cases, with doing the right thing. But rarely do they kill other people.
- You want to ensure your child that you are always looking out for their safety and that they can talk to you anytime when they have questions or fears.
- Help them find another person at school who can be there for them when they need to talk, such as a teacher, guidance counselor, or any other educator/mentor.
- It will be beneficial to limit your child’s access to news and media images so that they are not constantly bombarded by this event. As mentioned earlier, they are likely to have been exposed to all kinds of stories. Watching a news program along with them may be helpful. However, having the news shows on for several hours on a daily basis rather than watching just one program, may be overwhelming or exacerbate their anxieties and fears.
- Channel your child’s concerns on this issue in a positive direction. Help them think of ways that they would like to turn their fear into something positive. Obviously, if you have shared your religious beliefs with them, then something along those lines would be an excellent way to focus their energies. Other ideas include making a card for those affected, spending quality time together as a family, or sharing with them stories of real people doing good things for children and the community at large.
- Keep the lines of communication open! If they are afraid to go to school, validate them and be there for them as a support until they are comfortable again. Be sure to talk with guidance counselors/school psychologists, keeping them informed of what’s going on.
- If your child continues to struggle, do seek professional services. We all can use a little extra help after undergoing a traumatic event. This will help empower your child and help him/her feel that they are supported now and in the future.
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat is a licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice in Newtown, PA. Learn more at www.bhatpsych.com.