In the aftermath of school shooting: How to help kids to cope

In the wake of any tragedy or crisis, people have different ways to cope with the trauma. Experts agree that children have unique needs.

Weston psychologist Barbara Greenberg, who specializes in children and adolescents, has some advice for parents and caregivers in the aftermath of the school shooting in Newtown.

  1. Listen to children’s questions and concerns and give answers that are appropriate based on their age. Younger children need less information than older ones.
  2. Don’t overexpose children to the media. Dramatic images and explanations can be confusing and overwhelming.
  3. Reassure children that, while it seems like these things are “happening all the time,” this is still an extremely rare event.
  4. Reassure children that the adults in their lives — those they know personally as well as helpers like the police, EMTs, public officials, etc. — are doing everything they can to keep them safe.
  5. Keep an eye on children in the coming days, weeks, and even months for signs of anxiety. These include insomnia, stomachaches, changes in eating habits, difficulty concentrating, and clinging behavior. If you notice these, be sure your child has someone he or she can talk to.

In addition, Ms. Greenberg said, older children in their teens sometimes find it helpful to do something reassuring and concrete, such as donating to families of victims, placing memorials, or participating in vigils or remembrance ceremonies.

More suggestions

Save the Children in Westport, an organization dedicated to creating lasting change for children in need, had a few other suggestions:

  • Give children extra time and attention. Close, personal attention will help them to feel safe.
  • Be a model for children. They will learn how to deal with these kinds of events by seeing how the adults around them respond. Share feelings appropriately and calmly.
  • Help children to return to normal routines, such as set mealtimes and bedtimes, and playing with friends.
  • Encourage children to do volunteer work. Helping others can give kids a sense of control and security, and can help them to see that positive change is possible.

For more information and resources, visit savethechildren.org/cope.

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