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Responding to Children about Violent Incidents | News

Children who learn about violent incidents such as school shootings in Uvalde, Texas can experience great anxiety and fear. These feelings can last for days or weeks.

For many, the emotions could be exacerbated by the stress they experienced after previous mass shootings, including at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and at a church in Orange County.

San Diego County Deputy Director of Health Services, Dr. Piedad Garcia, said that it is important for parents to know their children’s answers. They should be prepared to speak openly but without giving too much detail.

“Every child shows different anxieties,” Garcia said. “It has to do with their age, their maturity, their individual experiences.”

Parents need to monitor their children’s situation and recognize that their children’s feelings are okay. Their sleep routines and appetite may be disturbed. “These are all normal reactions,” Garcia said. Provide emotional support. It may take minutes, hours or even days for the incident to affect children. When this happens, provide care (hugs, empathy, kindness, calm support) and ask about their thoughts and feelings.

Advises parents to limit their exposure of children to information about the tragedy. Media reports often repeat disturbing images and continued coverage can magnify the fact in children’s minds.

“Sometimes what happens is that they are over-excited by the information and that can create even more stress,” Garcia said.

Parents can point out to children that the event is over and reassure them that it is safe, Garcia said.

He said to answer the children’s questions simply, without dramatizing the incident. And give perspective, explaining that these incidents are not uncommon.

Garcia said child caregivers need to be aware of their own stress levels and try to stay calm. Children look to their parents for a sense of security and safety. Adults should also talk to another adult about how they are feeling.

The county also operates an Access and Crisis Line seven days a week, 24 hours a day, where people can get help with issues such as depression, anxiety, anger or other mental health challenges. The number is 888-724-7240.

Mental health professionals have also suggested these behavioral symptoms that may indicate that your child is reacting to the incident:

  • Infants up to two years old may react to their parents’ stress or other reactions. Babies can be irritable, cry more than usual and want to be hugged.
  • Preschoolers are not able to fully understand the tragedy, but they may know enough to feel helpless and depressed. They may feel fear and insecurity about being separated from caregivers. They may try to represent the incident through play activities.
  • Elementary school children have a better ability to understand tragedy. They may be preoccupied with the details of the event and want to discuss it. Other reactions may include sadness, generalized or specific fears about what will happen again, and feelings of guilt, overreaction, or inaction. They may feel angry that the event was not prevented or have fantasies of saving others.
  • High school and high school kids could engage in risky behaviors, such as reckless driving or the use of alcohol and drugs. Others may be afraid to leave home. A teenager may have strong emotions but may not want to discuss them. They may not want to go to school or participate in school activities. School performance may decline. Teenagers may become argumentative and / or withdrawn.

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