Monitor Children’s Reactions to Newtown Massacre

School districts and psychiatrists in the area are offering advice to parents on how to help their young children deal with the tragedy in Newtown, Conn.

Matthew G. Biel, M.D., M.Sc., chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and pediatrics at Georgetown University Medical Center advises parents to minimize their children’s exposure to media coverage of the massacre and to assure their children that their homes and schools are safe places. But he also advised parents follow their children’s leads. If they ask questions, answer them succinctly and directly. If not, just wait.

Anne Arundel County Public Schools asked parents to monitor their children’s reactions and activities in the days to come, as parents can best gauge children’s moods. Parents should let their children know it’s OK for them to express their emotions. Also, it’s OK to not have the answer to every question, especially following an inexplicable tragedy like the one at Sandy Hook. The school system has counseling available to help parents and students.

Dr. Joshua Weiner reminded that children’s reactions might not be immediate. The school shooting’s impact may not begin to manifest itself for several days.

Howard County Public Schools told parents they may see signs of sadness in their children over the next several weeks. The school system offered the following suggestions for supporting their children:

  • Monitor your child’s exposure to television and radio coverage of these events.  Viewing or listening to graphic news may cause further trauma, and/or desensitize a young person to violent aspects and their consequences.
  • It’s important to process whatever news they are receiving.  Young people may believe that “nothing like that” would ever happen here.  Such ideas should be explored in a supportive way that also gently reminds them that certain kinds of tragedies can touch any of us.
  • Conversely, a young person may feel extremely vulnerable upon hearing about these events because they occurred so close to home.  These children should be encouraged to express their fears; then gently remind them that their feelings are a normal response to an abnormal event. Encourage your children to talk with you about confusing feelings, worries and daydreams, by listening carefully.  Be available and give them extra time and attention during the next few days and weeks. Remain aware of your own reactions to your child’s fears and anxiety as well as your own reactions to these events.  It is OK to express your emotions to your children, “I am feeling sad about what happened.”  However, if you are feeling overwhelmed with emotion, it is important to take care of yourself and seek support from other members of your family, your faith community and your friends. If you feel your child needs support or you need additional information on how to provide support for your child at home, please feel free to contact your child’s counselor or school psychologist.
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