3 Things NOT to do for Anxious Children in Wake of School Shooting

Chances are you can’t go online without running across an article – or 20 – about the mass shooting that killed 28 at a Connecticut elementary school. Many child psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians and other professionals have already contributed lengthy discussions and tips on what to do in the wake of the rampage.

Although we applaud their rapid response and guidance, attempting to follow all their advice can seem overwhelming. As parents, you want to certainly do the “right” thing when it comes to talking to your anxious kid about a tragedy. But it seems there are so many “right” things to do!

Instead of poring over every single blog post, article and suggestion list, you can start doing the “right” thing by avoiding doing the wrong things that might contribute to panic attacks in children or make your child’s anxiety worse.

Three Things You Should NEVER do in the wake of any tragedy:

Don’t pretend it never happened. Your kid is going to find out about the tragedy, whether it be online, on TV, at school or even in the grocery store overhearing a conversation. Your anxious child will also hear rumors and misinformation about the tragedy from one source or another, and your job as a parent is to help your child learn the truth.

Outline the facts as you know them from a trusted news source (not a Facebook rant!) and give your kid the real rundown on what happened. You don’t have to go into significant details, but you should cover the general gist of what happened in an age-appropriate manner. Arm your anxious child with the real facts instead of rumors so you can both deal with reality.

Don’t offer false promises. Yes, you love your child and you want her to feel safe. But saying things like, “That would never happen here” or “Nothing like that would ever happen to us,” are not promises you can keep. The world can be a big, bad nasty place. While your anxious child doesn’t need to know the full nastiness of it all, she should be aware that bad things can happen to anyone but the main thing is to keep yourself as safe and secure as you can.

Don’t dismiss your child’s fears – no matter how irrational they may seem. It doesn’t matter if the school shooting suddenly makes your child think there’s a monster under the bed or a kid-eating bat in his light fixture. Don’t poo poo the fears, whatever they are. Talk about them! Gene Beresin, MD, says it succinctly in his article in Psychology Today:

“The most important thing is to keep conversations about worries and concerns open”

That means today, tomorrow and even six months from now if your anxious child still suffers from worries and concerns about the shooting – or anything. Talking about fears deflates them. Keeping them bottled inside only lets them fester and grow. The only thing that should be growing is your relationship with your child, based on openness, honesty and trust.