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Helping Kids Cope After Another Elementary School Massacre

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Advice on how to talk about mass shooting at a Texas elementary school.How do you help children make sense of a teenager in Texas gunning down 19 fourth graders and two teachers inside their elementary school? As adults stagger from news of yet another massacre, children and teens may feel angry, deeply saddened, and afraid.

The massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, comes on the heels of a mass shooting in a Buffalo, New York grocery store. Only the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut was more deadly.

“The extremity of violence is so hard for adults to wrap their heads around,” said Elizabeth Jacobson, NewBridge Services Director of Community Response and Education. “With news updates coming 24/7 over every device, children are likely to have heard about this horrific event and, at a minimum, wonder how it could have happened.”

Jacobson said parents’ first step should be to assure their children they will keep them safe. “Make sure they feel secure and cared for,” she said. Jacobson suggested parents process what happened before bringing it up with their kids so they can role-model coping skills. 

NewBridge offers the following advice to minimize children’s fear and anxiety:

Keep it Simple

It’s best to start a conversation by asking a child what they have heard. Parents can listen for their concerns and fears, and gently correct any misinformation. Explanations should be kept simple, especially for young children. Older children may have follow-up questions.

Limit Media Exposure

NewBridge CEO Michelle Borden, a licensed clinical social worker, urged parents to limit their children’s media exposure; television news often shows graphic images repeatedly, which can be very disturbing. Borden suggested parents screen news accounts first, whether they’re on television, in print or online.

“Let your children know that it is normal to feel upset about what happened,” Borden said. Parents should also express empathy for the people affected and talk about the heroes, including first-responders, who helped save lives.

Take Action

Parents should reassure their children that they are safe and the risk of such events happening to the family is very low, Borden said. Many families find solace in taking action such as donating money to a cause or volunteering, or participating in a community vigil.

Be Patient

Expect that children may very well show signs of stress. They may be irritable, have trouble sleeping, and change their eating habits, but those reactions should subside within two or three weeks. “Give your children extra patience, care and love,” Borden said.

If those behaviors don’t subside or if they appear weeks after the event, parents should seek professional help. Call NewBridge at 973-366-9333 or visit newbridge.org. The Traumatic Loss Coalitions for Youth at Rutgers University issued parent resources in prior years that are still pertinent, including this one.

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