With the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, parents and children throughout South Florida are dealing with a frightening new reality.
Fears that might have seemed distant are now on our doorstep, and parents need to prepare to help their children process them, said Linda Close, a licensed mental health counselor based in Davie.
While younger children have likely been shielded from the tragedy, many older children have seen or heard the reports, and everyone is going to react differently, Close said. “Some are feeling very fearful, some are feeling probably angry, some are probably feeling nothing much at all but numbness. They are checking out.”
Confusion, frustration and sadness are also to be expected, she said, “and helpless. I think helplessness is going to be a big part of what they are feeling.”
Ask your children what they are feeling about what happened. “If the child is expressing major concerns about not wanting to go back to school, it is important for parents to listen,” Close said. Ask them questions, such as “What scares you the most?”
Don’t rush your child, Close said. “It is hard for parents to see kids emotionally hurting, but if they try to work through emotions prematurely, kids won’t feel listened to and respected,” she said. “Don’t make your child feel silly or foolish. They feel what they feel.”
With older teens, “parents could use the opportunity to teach kids to set their own boundaries. Watching this over and over again can cause these feelings to come back. Teach them to limit themselves. Tell them, ‘We can go do something else besides getting into electronics.’ “
Parents should also encourage kids to reconnect with people who are safe at this time, such as family and good friends. “Trauma is when your whole security has been blown up. … You now know how vulnerable you are. They need to feel safe again. That’s why it is important to do a lot of talking, listening and reconnecting.”
Warning signs if a child is not adjusting over time:
• Grades drop
• Withdrawing, not wanting to go places or to school
• Sleeplessness and nightmares
• Physical aches, stomach aches
• They start to worry they are going to get hurt no matter where they go
• They can also get very critical of teachers and parents.
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