By Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW
One of the most horrifying events has happened. Your child attends a school where there has been a shooting. Someone is dead. Someone else is responsible. Within this awful reality, you and your child are navigating the emotions of fear, anger, loss and trying to find a path forward.
This letter is to help you as a parent be as supportive and emotionally available as possible so that your child can feel safer and function better.
In the wake of trauma, it is normal to feel terrified, exhausted, furious and even numb, or as if nothing is real.
Imagine that a traumatic event is like a surge of electricity and that this surge pops the circuit of our mind’s normal ability to process reality.
You can expect the following behaviors from your child: they may regress in independence. They may want you to make them food or even cuddle them the way you did when they were younger. It is normal and helpful for your child to receive extra love, care, and declarations of support. If your child wants to sleep on the floor of your bedroom, this is a perfectly reasonable thing to do right now.
Alternately, they might also pull back, shut down and even direct their anger at you for expressing concern. If this happens, try not to take it personally and instead imagine that they are telling you through their behavior, “Right now I need to avoid or release pent up distress about the event.”
They may have a greater need to be in touch with other classmates and friends at this time. While you can maintain whatever rules you already have regarding screen time and social media access, you may consider liberalizing those rules for the next three weeks by allowing your child to text, Snap and Discord more frequently to process their experience with others.
Your child may have a harder time attending to school work, and may neglect homework or studying. Teachers understand that in the wake of school shootings, it is harder to focus and learn. You can reach out to your child’s teacher to make accommodations if necessary.
It is normal for your child to want to talk about what they heard/felt/and are thinking about now. If you have difficulty listening to your child talk about this event, consider getting help for yourself and/or making sure your child has a trusted adult to talk about it with.
If your child seems extra sleepy that is normal as well, but if they are neglecting to eat, shower or they are staying in bed all day, that would be a strong indicator that they need additional help and could benefit from talking to a therapist.
Additionally if they cannot sleep and this does not resolve within a few days, they may need additional support.
Above all, remember that help is available and neither you nor your child should have to navigate this scary and traumatic time alone.