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Anything that's human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.
Once again, we are shaken to our core by a real-life nightmare, facing the unimaginable, the unthinkable yet what tragically has become numbingly predictable - the targeting of innocent children and educators in what should be one of the safest spaces in their lives. Today, we are adding more names to the list that every parent, every citizen fears most. How do we cope, how do we find the words to explain the unexplainable and help our kids deal with what they are hearing, seeing, and trying to make sense of as we do the same?
Unfortunately, violence is a part of the “norm” in so many children’s lives. But there is nothing normal about living with the constant fear of our children being harmed - especially as we send them off to school and fear for their safe return. As we grapple with what can be done to change the “norm” and ensure their safety and their ability to just be kids, we need to focus right now on how to help them understand all the confusing and frightening news they are absorbing. So hard, as we cannot make any sense of this ourselves… and it is with ourselves that we need to start first.
Before we can help our children understand and manage how they are feeling we need to first become aware of and deal with our own anxiety, worries, and fears. Children are always looking to the important adults in their world for reassurance and guidance and their safety, but now more than ever. Our actions, reactions, and responses are informing them how to do the same. By taking stock of our own emotions, we can then be available to our children in a calm and focused way to help them deal with their genuine fears and anxieties. Like us, our children are confused and scared and their feelings may be expressed through their actions especially as they may not have the words to express how they feel. You may observe changes in their behavior. They may be anxious when you leave or may want to only be with you. They may have difficulty sleeping or show changes in eating patterns. They may act up or act out.
Although we may feel powerless in how to be there for our children in the face of such tragedy, we do have the power to help them begin to process and deal with their emotions, and most importantly to feel that their safety net is secure. As parents and educators, the best we can do to help our kids in tragic moments such as these is to talk honestly and openly. To help them to identify, express, and understand all they are trying to make sense of in the world and in themselves. To be there to listen, to provide accurate developmentally appropriate information, to make good choices for the types of media they are consuming and how much access they have to media. To spend comforting time together, and to be there offering lots of warm, reassuring, and responsive hugs, and more hugs.
The following are some valuable tips for helping to be there for our kids during very scary times:
You are the beacon: model how best to handle these stressful days, where you can make a difference, and how you can maintain a positive attitude. Take walks together, watch a silly movie, read a book together, make comfort foods… and be sure to take care of you!
- Start with you! Be sure you are allowing yourself to be aware of your own emotions by becoming aware of and dealing with your own anxiety, worries, and fears. This way, you can approach your child in a calm and focused manner and be better available to help them deal with their concerns.
- Begin having conversations that involve both talking and listening— however small, but purposeful — encouraging children to talk about what they have seen and heard, and how they are feeling. Be open, inviting, and reassuring in your language, and let your child’s many questions guide the direction of the conversations.
- Be honest about how you feel about the news. It is ok to be confused and wonder why things happen. By letting children see and understand that you have feelings and emotions helps validate how they are feeling, and to know that feelings are okay.
- Be mindful and informed about the information you are sharing, sorting out misinformation and hearsay from accurate facts. Identifying where the information is coming from, and helping your child to do the same, will help you answer questions responsibly and empathically.
- Provide developmentally appropriate answers (“sometimes we don’t like what happens in the world”). Don’t overload them, or yourself, with info. Remember less is more, and don’t become overly detailed and descriptive with details.
- Take the lead from where kids are, and what they are ready to take in. It is ok not to have answers. But keep the conversational door open, addressing things as they arise and checking in with your kids as events evolve. Give kids facts and context without judgment.
- Validate how kids are feeling and help them understand that how they feel is understandable and ok. Everyone has big emotions, especially now.
- Reassurance is key. Keep to routines whenever possible. Help children to know that there is good in the world; Mister Rogers always said, “When something scary is happening, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Showing children all the people working to help and reading about organizations and heroes provides reassurance.
- Help kids to find ways they can help. Help them feel a part of a community of helpers by engaging in planned activities at your child’s school or in the community. There is agency and empowerment in coming up with and participating in actionable ways. Providing children with opportunities to feel that they can have a “voice” and reach out to a school just like theirs that is going through a horrible time, this also allows them to develop kindness and empathy. Ask children to think about how they might be helpful — let creativity take hold here, from artwork and letter writing to fundraising on the front lawn.
- Limit news exposure, but don’t avoid what is happening. Point to the heroes.
For Additional Resources Visit:
- Common Sense Media: How to Talk to Kids About School Shootings
- The National Traumatic Child Stress Network: ”Talking to Children About The Shooting”
- American Psychological Association: Helping Your Children Manage Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting
- The National Child Traumatic Stress Network: “Parent Guidelines for Helping Youth After Mass Shootings”
- PBS for Parents: Helping Children with Tragic Events in the News
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Helping Children Cope and Adjust After A Disaster
Books to Read Together:
- Once I was Very Scared
- The Rabbit Listened
- Come with Me
- A Kids Book About School Shootings
At Housman Institute, we believe our role is to nurture the social, emotional, and cognitive well-being of all students and educators without bias. It is critical that every child feel recognized and validated from their earliest days—to understand that their voice matters, regardless of background or experience and is being heard. We listen to, respect and support the needs of our educators as we recognize their critical role in a child's emotional growth and development. Together we need to begin the important work to help all our children and educators, as we move toward a more equitable environment for early learning, setting the stage for the building blocks of empathy and conflict resolution, and a more equitable future for us all. To learn more about how our program works to address equity in early childhood school communities... visit here.