This week’s horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland has flooded the major media with disturbing images of the violence that left 17 dead, leaving many parents and children struggling with anxiety and fear.
In the wake of the tragedy, mental health experts expect an increase in people seeking counseling, especially those with clinical depression or anxiety disorders. In addition, many specialists are urging parents to talk to their children to help them address, confront, and process their concerns.
“It’s very important to talk to your kids about the reports of today’s school shooting they may be seeing on the news, especially if they express concern or fear,” says Dr. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist, neuroscientist and New York Times bestselling author.
“For older kids, parents should feel free to answer any questions they may have and listen to their feelings. For younger kids, try to keep it short and avoid emotional rabbit trails.”
Amen tells Newsmax Health it’s also important to come up with a family plan for dealing with unexpected violence — at school or anywhere else.
“It should not be a child’s burden to worry about and fear things they cannot control, but as adults, we should have a plan in case disaster strikes,” he says.
“Parents should be able to say to their children, ‘If something bad happens at school – do this and do that. If someone at school tells you they are having violent or suicidal thoughts, ALWAYS tell parents about it, even if the kids tell you not to.’
Amen notes that such conversations can help ease fears and focus on the lessons such tragedies teach.
“These types of conversations will leave children with a sense of preparedness, which in turns provides comfort as they try and make sense of what they see on the news and hear about from their friends,” he says.
Other coping strategies recommended by mental health experts — for children and adults alike:
Limit TV news viewing, Amen tells Newsmax Health it’s not a good idea for anyone — especially children — to repeatedly view violent media images on television, which can have the effect of reliving the trauma. “Turn off the TV,” he advises. “Don’t be like most Americans who watch traumas over and over.”
Dial into your own feelings. Adults are also struggling with difficult emotions in the wake of such tragedies. Experts advise Parents to confront and manage their own emotions first, even if it requires professional attention, before discussing the issues with children.
Ask questions. Don’t presume your kids are OK if they’re not speaking up about the tragedy. Some may be numb or withdraw after an incident that leaves them feeling traumatized. Ask your children how they feel about what happened and what fears they have and encourage them to express them.
Watch for signs of deeper anxiety. Recurrent nightmares, lasting anger, or compulsive thoughts about school violence that last more than a few days can be signs of deeper psychological issues that might merit professional attention. “If [children] start to struggle with nightmares, help them finish the dreams in a more positive way, assuring them that they are safe with you, their parents,” Amen advises.
Other warning signs to watch for that may indicate a child is not adjusting well over time:
Withdrawal from friends and family.
Pulling back from favorite activities, such as sports or hobbies.
A sudden drop in school grades.
Spending long hours alone.
Refusing to go to school, including feigning illness.
Physical aches, pains.
Obsessive fear of getting hurt, even in everyday experiences.
Unusual criticism of teachers and parents.
© 2018 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.