Shooting incidents involving children have an intense emotional impact for many of us. We often feel horror and sympathy when innocent adults are murdered but when the victims are children, these reactions can be greatly amplified.
Shock and Disbelief. “How could anyone kill an innocent child?” This question confounds many of us. Doing such a thing is so far beyond what is considered “human” that most of us simply can’t grasp it. The innate impulse among most adults is to protect the young, and such heinous acts violate our sense of fairness and humanity. This is particularly true for anyone who is a parent.
Fear and Anger. Such incidents remind us that, despite our best efforts, we cannot ensure the safety of our children. Understandably, this may motivate parents to keep their children away from public places and can catalyze obsessive worries about sending little ones to school or daycare. Some parents also react with anger or even rage (a response to fear and the loss of control). Children, being very perceptive about emotions, may “absorb” the fear and anger they experience in the adults around them, sometimes making them hyper-vigilant and anxious.
Emotional Roller Coaster. Dread, anger, guilt, frustration and grief are common emotional reactions to reports of violence, and when the victims are children, our protective instincts may intensify these feelings. You may seesaw between a need to focus on the trauma and discuss it with others and a need for comfort and distractions.
How you can help yourself, your friends and your family:
- Be accepting. Don’t judge your emotional responses (or those of your loved ones) as right or wrong. They are what they are.
- Connect. Many people find some comfort in speaking about their fears with close friends and family. When others come to you with their distress, try to listen more than speak.
- Limit media exposure. Media coverage of tragic events can be unrelenting. Create “timeouts” from bad news – take walks or otherwise unplug. Be mindful of the impact of media on children and teens because, for them, school shootings are “close to home.”
- If you have children. Educate yourself and your children about what to do in an active threat situation. Talk to responsible parties at your child’s school or daycare about their security plans and how they prepare children to respond in an emergency.
- Stay calm. Limit emotional outbursts around your young ones. It makes it harder for them.
When to seek help from a professional counselor:
- You find your life, work, or relationships being disrupted by your emotional reactions.
- You cannot find a way to express your feelings, especially overwhelming ones.
- You aren’t sure if the way you are reacting is “normal.”
- You are using alcohol or other drugs to cope.
- You are concerned about how a loved one is coping and want to know how to be helpful.