School shootings: How to help children cope with tragedy

We are stunned and saddened by last week’s shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. As an organization that cares, heals and protects children every day, our reactions are especially heightened to this terrible tragedy.

Talking to children about difficult community events can be challenging. Remember to be as honest as possible, speak on their level and remain calm. Here are behaviors to watch for and ways to help your child cope with the sadness.

  • Watch for a lack of interest in normal activities.
  • Listen for signs of not wanting to go to school or expressing fear about school.
  • Ask open-ended questions such as “What did you talk about with your friends today?”
  • Children will often imitate caregivers’ reactions as a way for how to respond/cope so think about what you are saying in front of a child.
  • If a child expresses feeling unsafe, discuss how to regain a sense of control over surroundings, such as where to go in a school if an event happened. Compare these plans to a tornado drill to help a child understand.
  • Limit exposure to media coverage to prevent re-living the event.
  • Remind your child this is not a common event.
  • If unusual behaviors last more than a week or two, please seek help from a professional.

Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin offers mental health services through our Child and Family Counseling Program and our Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Center. In addition, Project Ujima is available to consult with schools or groups on community violence.

- Ronald Pupp, PhD, director of counseling, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services

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