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How to be there for children who are watching tragedy unfold

How to be there for children who are watching tragedy unfold
Posted at 8:45 PM, May 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-26 07:19:44-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- As investigators in Texas work on the timeline of what led to a deadly shooting at an elementary school, parents and families across the country are dealing with the aftermath.

"You know, I just kind of assured him that the school locks down. They don't just let anybody walk in. They do have protocols," one mother said.

Chesterfield County parents shared some of the discussions they have had with their children following Tuesday's mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

"I just had the picture up and I was just showing them and explaining to them how important it is, under no circumstances, that you don't listen to your teacher," another mother said.

For those wondering what to tell their children, Dr. Bela Sood had some advice for parents.

She said that first off, parents and guardians should make sure they have processed their own feelings and have the emotional capacity for them.

"It's a very common kind of adage, that when you are in an aeroplane and people — they're doing that thing about if you run into a major catastrophe that you put on the oxygen mask before you don't your child, because you have to have the oxygen yourself," said Sood. "So, it's the same thing here that you have to first take care of your own feelings. And you have to put them into perspective, before you have the emotional capacity to be responsive to your children's needs."

Then, it depends on the age of your children. Younger children may be unaware of an event and exposing them to it may not be necessary.

"Is it really necessary for a four-year-old to be exposed to the images of such a thing? And how can we stop that from happening and allow them to engage in other activities that a four year old ought to be doing? Why should they be watching news which they can't process and figure out. However, with social media the way it is, that sometimes even for us get exposed to this," added Sood. "I always say that when there are major tragedies and we get transfixed by what's happening. We want to hear the news three times a day, five times a day, we want to get it from this channel, that channel...But who's listening on to this. This is the kid who's looking around and you know, they may be playing but they're also getting that stuff. So one has to be careful because children's ability to process that is very different from adults. And we've got to put ourselves in the shoes of how scary and and discombobulating that that whole thing is."

For younger children who have been exposed, Sood said they may not have the tools to communicate what they are feeling. She recommends watching how they play and watch out for aggressive actions that are out of the ordinary.

"Play is a very important thing, particularly with a younger child, who is not that expressive with their words. So, for example, it's producing anxiety, which is then coming out into aggressive play teams, which are like, 'This animal is kind of going to eat this one. And so, this one is going to respond to it.'...If you see more of that happening, which is out of ordinary, which is different from the usual play, observing that and watching it," said Sood, who added you shouldn't tell the child to play that way. "But...say, 'What do you think that animal is feeling?' Those would be kind of things that would elicit the child's feelings and experiences."

On the other hand, older children are likely to know what is going on due to social media. Sood encourages to let these older kids to start the discussion.

"Get them to talk about it, get them to speak about what they're feeling, what their views are about it on a personal, emotional, fearful, all of those levels," Sood said.

Once they have laid out their feelings, she encourages parents to help them process them and come to a better place about feeling safe.

"We have to approach life with optimism and looking forward and knowing that the world is going to be okay," Sood said.

Sood said that if your child has expressed anxiety about this, you should watch them for the next couple of days. If their anxiety doesn't seem like it has subsided, they should consider getting in touch with a pediatrician.

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