I worked in New York City directing Mental Health Crisis Teams before, during, and after 9/11. Show me a picture of the towers falling, and I want to weep. It was two years before I could visit the site. Last year, I visited the Columbine Memorial and knew immense sadness. The Auroroa Shootings remind me that bad things will always be part of life.
Bad things happen. We cannot always stop bad from happening, but much has been learned about staying strong when trauma visits. Here is a link to the notes I made about trauma when I was teaching at course in Adolescence at Columbia University School of Social Work. They contain my treatment protocol. Intended for those wanting to be therapists, the information may be useful for parents or others dealing with bad things.
The basic protocol for children impacted even when not directly involved:
Very young children fare best by being protected, no television displays of the bad things
Assuring all children who see parents are upset that although something bad has happend to other people,and the parents are sad, everyone in their family is safe.
By the time a child is seven or eight, they will need a bit more. The event should be explained as simply as possible. “A sick man shot some people.” Depending on the child’s age and what others will be saying, you might want to add. “The shooting happened at a movie and the man didn’t know any of the people.”
The point should be made that such things are very rare in our world. “I’ve gone to thousands of movies and never been shot at.”
The other point that has to be made is what makes people do bad things. The best explanation is that something bad must have happened to the person and what he did was very wrong. Bad things happen to everyone, but part of growing up is learning to stay in control of bad feelings. Shooting other people is not being in control.
Do not condemn the person, condemn the behavior.
The older the child, they more they will want to discuss what happened, why, and how to keep themselves safe. It might be a good time for a family meeting, if you have been holding them and if not it might be a good time to start.
Encourage brain storming about why bad things happen, how to keep safe, and how to go on.
Thoughts of revenge are natural, but should be discouraged. As Saint Thomas Aquinos said, “To understand all is to forgive all.”
Engage the children and yourself in normal activities, but also suggest figuring out some ways to help the victims and their families. Going to religious services is helpful to some, writing condolence notes, taking flowers and candles to the site, raising money, or volunteering skills.
Night fears, night mares, and trouble sleeping might increase for all closely involved in any traumatic situation. A child who lost a friend in an incident might experience sleep problems. One of the most common medications we gave out after 911 was something to get people sleeping more naturally.
As described in the article many beliefs are shattered by traumatic incidents. Some cling more strongly to earlier beliefs that comfort; others need to rebuild a new explanation for why bad things happen. This is the purpose of talk therapy.
Recent research shows that just talking about bad things is not helpful. What is to repair any shattered beliefs.
Build resilience as part of caring for a child
Building emotional strength prior to such events should be part all parenting curriculums. Teachers, child care workers, and others caring for children also need to be taught the skills that promote resilance.
Self-soothing skills are paramount.
A strong philosophy for explaining why bad things happen that is not divisive is the second most important way adults and children can stay strong.
A final rant
Violence and the venting of anger are too strongly supported in our society. We worry more about people’s private sex lives than we do about hatred and the violence it leads to. Brings tears to my eyes and if I let it will take me down the path of despair. I do believe slowly but surely the world has seen the need to stop drawing circles of hate around various groups of people. I only wish humanity would move ahead in this area. We got to the moon, why can’t we defeat hate and violence?
Be kind. If you think this post will help someone forward it.
Stay strong I am trying. and I often note. doing so is not easy.
IMAGE FROM the Aurora Sentinal