After a gunman opened fire on a crowd of hapless concertgoers in Las Vegas on the night of October 1, 2017, the entire nation was grieving for the loss of numerous lives. The recent spate of tragic events has left many parents, children, senior citizens and teenagers anxious, sad, worried and even angry.
Melissa watched the news of the shooting along with her son, 15-year-old Dylan. But she didn’t know how to talk about it with him. She noticed changes in his behavior – he became more anxious, had frequent outbursts of anger even turned to alcohol to numb his pain.
Finally, she sought professional help for her son.
Talking about tragic events – be it terrorist attacks, mass shootings or bombings – can be very difficult for parents who have small children, tweens, and teens. And the number of tragic events occurring in the last year hasn’t made it any easier to talk about them. In fact, it becomes even more challenging.
But shunning the topic altogether will not help your children grow up to become well-adjusted individuals who aren’t afraid to contribute to society and make positive changes. Making them numb to all that is happening around them is the worst outcome of this situation. So talk about these events, however hard it may be.
That’s easier said than done. How do you talk to your teenager about mass shootings? How do you have a conversation with your tween about bombings? Don’t worry, there are some things you can say and do that will help them process their complex web of emotions after a tragic event. Here they are:
First, Process your Own Emotions
Before delving into a discussion about a deadly event, you need to process your own emotions. How do you feel? Take as much time as you need to feel what you’re feeling. If you’re sad, have a good cry. If you’re angry, try to cool down. If you’re scared, try to assure yourself that the situation is being handled by the relevant authorities.
While it’s good to process your own emotions, don’t be afraid to share how you feel with your children. They need to know that their parents are as unsettled by the event as they are. Showing that you have a reaction to a catastrophic event also ensures that they shouldn’t “expect” these events to occur or that they should numb their feelings to them.
Be Honest and Stick to Facts
Now that you’re okay, it’s time to talk about the terrorist attack. Avoid going into the gruesome details like the blood and gore. Instead, stick to the facts and be honest about what’s happening. Remember that a significant amount of misinformation is almost always circulated on social media and on the Internet. As a responsible parent, you need to make sure that they have the correct facts.
Have an honest and open discussion. And it’s perfectly normal to tell them “I don’t know” if you don’t know the answers to certain questions.
Listen To Them
Thirdly, listen to what your teenager is telling you. If they’re upset, hear them out. If they want to vent, let them. Hear them out.
Listening also enables you to understand how your child is interpreting the event. Whatever feelings they’re having are justified. Let them explore these feelings.
Make Them Feel Safe and Loved
As a parent, we do the best we can for our children. While we can’t prevent unfortunate events from occurring or shield them from pain, we can make them feel safe and loved. If the perpetrator has been caught, let them know that. If the shooter is dead, inform them. It the police have suspects and are in pursuit of him or her provide them that information. You can also emphasize the large distance between the event and your home.
Moreover, give them ample love. Tell them that you’re there for them no matter what. Using phrases like “This is a very rare event” or “Security has been tightened” or “[The event] was awful. Thank God it’s a rare occurrence” are beneficial.
Emphasize Stories of Bravery and Selflessness
It’s important to focus on stories of bravery, selflessness, and love to show your children that even though bad things happen there is still goodness in the world. In several awful events, stories of how a bleeding man saved a trapped woman or a husband who shielded his wife or a parent who rushed his injured child to the hospital with no regard for her own wounds are always highlighted in the news.
Besides focusing on acts of bravery, also point out how aid workers, policemen, paramedics and the hospital staff are working round the clock to rescue and treat victims.
Seek Professional Help If Needed
Although most children can cope with the sight of bombings, terrorist attacks, shootings and other heartbreaking events on the news, some may not be able to deal with them so easily. If you notice that your teenager is experiencing some of the below mentioned symptoms, you might consider seeking the services of a therapist:
• Unable to concentrate on school work
• Headaches and stomachs
• Becoming more anxious than usual or experiencing anxiety attacks
• Irritability and disobedience
• Frequent outbursts of anger
• Becoming fearful or afraid to step out of the house
• Substance abuse
• Bedwetting in young children
While it’s essential to talk about shocking events, it’s equally essential to never force your children to talk about them. Some teenagers might appear disinterested or act like these events don’t affect them even though they do. Some tweens might crave routine to feel safe. Others might not be ready to express their emotions just yet. Give them time. Be patient. Just let them know that you’re there for them if they want to talk.
If your concerned about your child’s behavior after a tragic event, you might want to contact a therapist. Feel free to reach out to Orly Gueron a Licensed marriage and family therapist and relationship specialist in Aventura, FL!