In an ever-dangerous world reported on by round-the-clock media, the emotional effects of major tragic events transcend local boundaries. They trouble the national psyche, bringing sadness, anger, fear and anxiety throughout the country, and they can make a particularly heavy impact on children and teens.
Two of the five deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history occurred in a five-week span – the killing rampage on Nov. 5 at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that left 26 dead, which followed the murder of 58 at the Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas. Such horrific news, for which there are no easy answers, often prompts questions from kids to their parents no matter if they live in Whatcom County or some other part of the country.
Parenting experts say that while these tragedies are difficult to explain, it is vital that parents be especially tuned in to their kids and help them through a period that can be confusing, scary and traumatic.
In Bellingham, Support Officer Community Care is on standby ready to help. Its mission is to impact and influence the quality of life for families experiencing tragedy and trauma in the community and the first responders who serve them.
Kendra Crisitelli, executive director of Support Officer Community Care, said there are a variety of ways to help children suffering from trauma, whether it is a local or national event. Parents, grandparents, and guardians can:
▪ Encourage your child to talk about their feelings and share your own feelings with them.
▪ Do not criticize or shame the child for their fears.
▪ Encourage the child to draw about their feelings.
▪ Spend extra time with your child, especially at bedtime.
▪ Praise and recognize responsible behaviors.
▪ Relax rules, but maintain family structure and responsibilities.
▪ Work closely with teachers, day-care personnel, babysitters, who may not understand how a disaster may affect a child.
▪ Hold your child. Touching provides extra reassurance.
▪ If your child awakens with nightmares, reassure them and stay with them until they go back to sleep.
▪ Role play with the child the appropriate steps to take in the event of another disaster. Set up and practice safety procedures.
▪ Help children commemorate loss of friends or loved ones.
“Try to avoid any additional changes or stresses that are not absolutely necessary,” Cristelli said.
Counseling also may be an option, according to Cristelli. Counseling is the process of one individual (or more) helping another individual (or more) to improve his or her way of thinking and behaving in a problem or crisis situation. Counselors have special knowledge, skills and experience that benefit the people receiving the help.
“All parents want to protect their children from pain, including emotional pain,” said Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio, a family therapist and author of “Simple Habits of Exceptional (But Not Perfect) Parents.”
“These crimes frighten and confuse all of us, regardless of age and whether or not the latest one happened near where we live. We want our kids to know that we’re right there with them, and that we’ll help them get through the mess of feelings they must be having.”
Dolan-Del Vecchio gives four tips to help parents comfort their kids in the wake of national tragedies: listen, be real and be calm, limit exposure to graphic details and images and observe them closely.
“Our kids are always watching us. Everything we do teaches them something about how to live,” Dolan-Del Vecchio said. “In times of national tragedy, we can reinforce their safety and teach them not to live in fear.”
If your child has experienced sexual trauma or has witnessed domestic violence, contact the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services at 877-715-1563 or the 24-hour helpline at 360-715-1563. The organization offers family services and support groups.
The Brigid Collins Family Support Center in Bellingham offers parenting seminars for parents, grandparents, families and friends of children, aimed at supporting positive parenting and tackling tricky issues like managing children’s anxiety.
Consultation, coaching and other intensive services also will be available for families, with a free one-on-one consultation. For more information or questions, contact Megan Brown Douglas at 360-734-4616 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bellingham Public Schools devotes an entire page on its website that it often shares with families and staff after tragic events, said Jacqueline Brawley, executive director of the Department of Communications and Community Relations.
It is called Resources for Families and Staff page.
There you will find ways to talk to your children about myriad topics, including: