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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Recovering from Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting

To have not heard about the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School would have required that you have been cloistered. The details have been plastered on news outlets around the world. It has been sensational - many killed, out of control gun access, theories trying to unravel what happened, traumatized families and first responders. These are the elements that have been repeated over and over again.

Some images, like the one below of police officers leading children away, have been seen by millions. Viewers have been glued to televisions as the minute details trickle out surrounded by multiple repetitions of what is possibly known.

There are at multiple sets of traumas here. The first is obviously the children and staff who were in the school. They witnessed or heard what went on. The second is the family members of both the deceased and the survivors. Then there is the community that must grieve the loss of the children but also the rewriting of what they had come to understand their town was all about. There are the first responders who faced head on the victims. There is a larger series of traumas though that occur vicariously. It is comprised of those millions who are over consuming this story. It is becoming too much their personal reaction to the tragedy.

Fortunately, most people recover from trauma as long as they take steps to connect with what really matters in their life. In other words, tragic as this is, they come to see that the tragedy is an isolated event in what is otherwise a life that they can manage. It is much more difficult for those who have other traumas upon which this adds further baggage. But that is not the case for most.

So what can we do? One of the most important things we can do for children is ensure that they are surrounded by people, things and places that make them feel safe. This often means family. The message needs to be that they are safe and they are and will be ok.

The child may need to talk about what happened. This is important while not causing the child to tell the story multiple times. Allow them to grieve and let them know that such feelings are normal. Let them participate in healing activities such as commiserating with friends. It is important to ensure that they feel resilient - they will get over this.

Why would I write these things - I am not at Sandy Hook nor will I be. It is because children have been widely exposed to these stories in the media.

Real child protection occurs in families who make their children feel safe and secure. This is a chance for that to happen. For the children who have been exposed to these stories, they need to know how rare these events really are. They also need to know that it won't happen to them. This is a chance for parents to talk to their children about how their lives are ok.

For some few children who have other traumas or losses, however, this may be more complicated. But be assured, making them now feel safe will help. For a small few, professional help may be required. But they are the few.

Another vital step adults can take, is to model that things will be safe, secure and manageable. Kids take their leads from adults on this. Something very constructive that the adults can do is limit the amount of exposure that the child has to this and similar stories. In other words, turn the news off - it is not helping the child and really not helping most adults.

I have worked in emergency cases such as through the ER of a major hospital and on a child abuse team. Taking these tragedies into your home life does not help you or your family.

Instead, turn the family focus on to things that are normal, fun and engaging. This reinforces the child's sense of security. That is real help.

1 comment:

  1. Here is a moving and thought-provoking video about a little boy's letter, after the Sandy Hook tragedy