When 5-year-old Skylin Jamrowski found out her mother and stepfather were two of 22 people shot and killed in a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, she cried and asked her grandmother:
“Is he going to come and shoot me?”
When I read the words in a CNN post, I wanted to cry and turn away. I instead, choked back the tears and forced myself to keep reading. I had the luxury of looking away, but that family, that grandmother, did not. She had to answer that child’s question.
I’m blessed that I don’t know what that’s like and that I can’t even imagine it, but more and more communities in this country aren’t able to say the same. Sixty-two people have been killed in mass shootings this year alone, and more than 30 of the victims died this weekend, with nine of them in Dayton, Ohio.
These killings are happening so frequently, experts all around the country are working with communities to teach them how to deal with mass shootings, how to survive them and how to talk to their children about them.
The American Psychological Association shared these tips for helping your child manage stress after a mass shooting:
1. Talk to your child.
What you talk about and how you say it depends on age, but all children need to know you are there listening to them. Find times when they are most likely to talk, such as when riding in the car, before dinner or at bedtime. Listen without interrupting, and let them know it’s OK to disagree.
Reinforce ideas of safety and security, and remind them you are there for them.
2. Keep home a safe place.
When the world becomes overwhelming, home can be a refuge for children. Help make it a place of peace and comfort. Consider planning a night when everyone participates in a favorite family activity.
3. Watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety.
After a traumatic event, it’s common for children to experience trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating on schoolwork or home responsibilities, changes in appetite or changes in mood. They may feel a wide range of emotions. Encourage your children to express their feelings by talking about them, journaling, painting or telling stories, but consider consulting a professional if you’re noticing long-lasting or harmful changes.
4. Take news breaks.
Children are curious. They may want to stay updated on all the latest happenings whether via YouTube, Instagram or TV. It is important to limit the amount of time spent watching the news or staying connected online because constant exposure may heighten their anxiety and fears. Talk to them about what they see or read.
5. Monitor adult conversations.
Be aware that your children may be listening to your conversations. If they do not understand they will fill in the gaps, which can increase anxiety.
6. Check-in often.
Be sure to check in regularly with your children as you monitor their coping. Provide extra time, attention and patience.
7. Take care of yourself.
Take care of yourself, so you can take care of your children. Keep a regular schedule for activities such as family meals and exercise to help restore a sense of security and normalcy, and give yourself time and space when you need it.
8. Seek help if you need it.
There’s no shame in talking to someone if you or your children feel overwhelmed or have problems performing basic daily activities. Just be sure you talk to a licensed mental health professional.