Susan C. Stone's Practical Parenting Blog dotcom

GUN VIOLENCE – HELPING CHILDREN COPE

Posted on: July 8, 2022


I am saddened to have to begin yet another blog by saying “We are living in a dangerous and scary world.” As adults, we struggle to carry on a normal life and live with optimism while almost daily seeing rampant and random terrorism. It is eroding our adult coping strategies, so what are our children to do with the information they inevitably receive? Even if you attempt to shield them, children as young as preschoolers can be exposed – through television, radio, newspaper photos and playground chatter. How can parents help them?

First, being appropriate and aware of how you act and react is one way to help your children feel safe, secure and optimistic about life in  an uncertain world.

BE PARENTAL – convey that you are in charge; make clear the distinction between adult and kid decisions; enforce your usual rules and limits and their enforcement;  let children know that you and other adults work to keep them safe. They will only believe you if they perceive you as “the big person in charge”.

CONTROL THE FLOW OF INFORMATION – control access to the news according to the age of your child and their need to know. Very young children should be protected, as well as you can, from any information about events. Older children will receive information and need you to put it in context for them. Avoid constant, repetitive news viewing which increases anxiety for both adults and children. Do not have adult conversations about frightening events in front of children.

BE  AWARE OF YOUR REACTIONS – Process your emotions first, away from your children. Don’t fall apart in front of them – present yourself as being calm and in control. Be aware if you are acting more impatient, yelling more or being preoccupied. Do not discuss events on an adult level when your children can hear you – this includes phone conversations.

MAINTAIN ROUTINES – Keep to normal daily schedules and activities. Continue normal expectations for children’s behavior and schoolwork. Help children restore a sense of control – give them age-appropriate decisions. Keep family traditions and plan for future activities.

COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR CHILD – Your job, at all ages is to answer questions, correct misconceptions, and to provide education, perspective and reassurance. Be available for children to express their feelings and concerns. This will most likely happen when children have alone time with you. How you respond will depend on your child’s age and exposure.

Children under 8 do not need to be told about an event or have a discussion unless they are exposed to the information. How will you know? Be aware of children’s verbal and non-verbal expressions of concern and fears – play themes, drawings, changes in their habits, not wanting to be in a room alone or sleep alone, signs of stress. If it seems they have concerns, you need to bring up the topic. “It seems like you are worried about something.” or “You’re not wanting to sleep alone. Why do you think that changed?”

In talking to them, first determine what they know so you don’t unnecessarily elaborate. Instead, acknowledge and label their feelings. “It’s ok to feel sad, but the people are safe now.” Explanations and answers should be honest, simple, accurate and age-appropriate; answer only what they want to know. Have a one sentence narrative you want them to absorb and which reflects your beliefs. “A bad person hurt people.” Focus on the helpers. “We and other grown ups are doing our best to keep you safe.”

For older elementary-age children, answer their questions honestly but not with more information than they request. Also ask questions- “What do you think about what happened?” “How are you feeling?”

For tweens and teens, do ask if they heard and how they are feeling. They are less likely to talk than younger children so don’t push conversation. Check in from time to time on how they’re feeling. Teach media literacy so children understand why news coverage is so intense and on-going.

PROVIDE REASSURANCE -For all children, it’s important to provide perspective. Put information they receive into a broader context beyond their literal and limited viewpoint, i.e. they are unlikely to be present at such an event .Young children only need to know that  you can and will protect them. Older children benefit from understanding the actions adults are taking in response to the gun issue. Discuss being involved in advocating for change. Action alleviates fear. Plan age-appropriate proactive activities for them such as collecting money for victims, sending letters to legislators. Such actions confer a sense of control.

COORDINATE EFFORTS BETWEEN HOME AND SCHOOL – Exchange information with teachers about children’s displays of stress at school or at home. Schools should inform parents of social studies, current events lessons or relevant discussions which may be reflected in concerns or behavioral changes at home.

BE ALERT TO ONGOING STRESS IN CHILDREN – Children can suffer from PTSD as can adults, If this is the case, seek professional help. (Please see my upcoming blog of signs of stress in children.)

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