|Counselor's Corner: Tragedy in Connecticut|
Since the devastating tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week, children, parents, and school staff have been expressing feelings of shock, sadness, outrage, disbelief, and grief. Parents are asking for help to discuss the event with their children.
Experts agree that parents be encouraged to start a dialogue with their children. It might not be appropriate to bring it up with children five and younger, but older children have probably heard all kinds of stories about what happened. With all the social media, TV, and radio, chances are most children are aware of it.
According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, it could be harmful to avoid the subject because it could cause more fear in children's minds. "Silence suggests that what has occurred is too horrible even to speak about, or that you do not know what has happened."
As with most situations, children will fill in the blanks with their imagination, and that could result in extreme fear or even terror for them. It is important to find out what they already know or have heard and ask questions to determine what they believe. In our schools, older children have heard and repeat misinformation, so it has been necessary for our teachers and counselors to address the facts.
It is best to acknowledge that as adults, we are frightened, but assure them that lots of people are working to keep them safe. In our Ouachita Parish schools, police and sheriff's department officers are visible at school before, after, and during school. Many students and parents have expressed their appreciation for this display of caring and protection.
The exposure to media coverage should be limited for all children. The Traumatic Stress Network has taken a stance that very young children should not be allowed to see or hear news reports. Often, parents think they are playing and not paying attention, but they are usually aware of what is being reported on the TV and radio. As adults, we are drawn to the stories, but when children hear them over and over, they may get the idea that these things are happening over and over.
"Most children are quite resilient and will return to their normal activities and personality relatively quickly," according to Community Partners, an agency in Dover, Del., but there are warning signs that might require attention.
"Indicators like a change in the child's school performance, changes in relationships with peers and teachers, excessive worry, school refusal, sleeplessness, nightmares, headaches or stomach aches, or loss of interest in activities that the child used to enjoy should be noted and addressed by a professional if necessary." Both children and teens will need a little extra patience, care and love.
Our school counselors have more detailed information about trauma and how adults can help children. Please contact one of us and we will be glad to send you additional information.
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Nancy Blanchard, Ed.S, NCC/NCSC, LPC is a counselor at Highland and Lenwil Elementary Schools in West Monroe.