Talking with Your Children About Navy Yard Shooting
Yesterday another tragedy occurred, which involved a mass shooting at the D.C. Navy Yard. Between the Sandy Hook shooting last December, the Boston Marathon bombing in April, and other less significant events over the past year, it has been a year filled with several major negative events. While the latest mass shooting is likely to have less impact on children than the Sandy Hook shooting, it is still a scary and upsetting event for people of all ages. For children, they are often less able to fully process events, and if they are already prone to anxiety or fear, mass shootings (or other similar events) can increase those feelings.
Therefore, here are a few suggestions on how to talk to your child about the event from yesterday. Each child’s needs are different, and obviously the age and maturity level will vary, so please only use these suggestions as a guide to talking to your child about the events from yesterday:
1) Let the child take the lead in offering information about what they know.
Sit your child down and explore with them what they have heard about the shooting from yesterday. It is best not to give them too many details about what happened unless they already know significant details.
2) Provide verbal and physical comfort.
Reiterate to your child that these events do not happen very often and that adults in their life do everything they can to prevent anything bad from happening to them. Provide a hug if needed. Ask them to talk about how they feel and address any sadness or concerns that they have.
Note. Since this event occurred with adults, younger children may feel more removed from the situation and not be as affected by it compared to the Sandy Hook shooting or Boston Marathon bombing. Thus, if you’ve talked briefly about it and your child seems to be fine, it is best to leave the situation alone. In the same way that adults often become more upset by a major event after watching news clips repeatedly on television, children may become more affected by it with repeated exposure.
3) If you have concerns, find out how your child’s school plans to address the events from yesterday:
Each school is likely to handle the events somewhat differently. Some of the schools in DC near the D.C. Navy Yard were on lock down for most of the day and thus children were well aware (and probably quite scared) about what was going on nearby. Other schools farther away in Montgomery County or other D.C. suburbs may not have even informed students during the day as to what was going on. Thus, some schools may choose to discuss the events in class, while others may not. If you have concerns about the events being discussed with your children, speak with your child’s teacher to find out how the event will be discussed (if at all).
When tragic events like these happen, it can be scary and upsetting for people of all ages. While adults have usually lived through a variety of tragic events and learned to cope, children usually have less experience with such events and may have more difficulty processing and coping. For children prone to anxiety, events like this can cause an increase in symptoms, especially related to fear around something happening to them. An increase in anxiety is fairly typical for people of all ages following negative events like this, but if it persists for more than a week or two, it is recommended that you seek professional assistance for your child.
Dr. Carey Heller is a licensed psychologist with The Heller Psychology Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland. He specializes in work with children and adolescents and is happy to answer questions and provide consultations for parents who are considering pursuing treatment for their child or adolescent. Dr. Heller can be reached at (301)-385-2610 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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*Disclaimer: The previous information is intended as general guidance based on my professional opinion, does not constitute an established professional relationship, and should not replace the recommendations of a psychologist or other licensed professional with whom you initiate or maintain a professional relationship*