Content warning: In support of trauma-informed communications, please be aware that this message contains topics that may be activating for survivors of gun violence and those who have been impacted by gun violence. The Confidential Advocacy Program can be reached 24/7 by calling 833-495-2277. Additional resources for OHSU members are available here.
Words are insufficient to describe our collective grief and anger at the news of yet another mass shooting — one that, as of Tuesday evening, has taken the lives of 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Texas. Our hearts break for the lives lost and all those whose lives are forever changed by this senseless act of violence.
As health care professionals, we implore all those with the ability to take action to come together and take immediate steps to stop this violence.
Just a week after reaffirming our commitment to do our part to address gun violence, let us say again, that we commit ourselves today and every day to doing everything within our power to build a future where all people feel safe and welcome going about daily work, home and leisure activities.
“This is going to have emotional consequences for parents, families, children and schools across the country,” says George Keepers, M.D., professor of psychiatry in the OHSU School of Medicine. “It’s going to be difficult for parents to explain how this could possibly happen in an elementary school — and it will take time. Children may experience anxiety, and they’ll need time to understand and to cope.”
In wake of this and other tragic events, parents may be grappling with how to help their children process trauma, understand tragedy, and deal with fear.
Ajit Jetmalani, M.D., a child psychiatrist at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, offers advice for parents to help their children cope with recent events:
- Parents should be aware of their own reactions to these tragedies, and attempt to refrain from alarming their children through verbal or non-verbal cues. Children often become concerned about their own safety or the safety of their families upon hearing of tragedies. Children often take their parents’ lead as to how to react.
- Create a sense of openness to discussion but avoid pressuring children to talk. Every child’s reaction is unique to their personality, developmental stage and experiences.
- Parents should monitor their kids’ TV watching and make sure they are not overly exposed to tragedies such as these. News reports are too fast for kids to absorb. In addition, children process this type of information much differently than adults, and think of the personal impacts more often than adults do. Make sure children understand that they are safe and secure.
- It’s OK for parents to proactively talk to their kids about these events, as they will likely hear about them later. Be sure to provide limited detail and highlight the rarity of such occurrences.
- Experts recommend not sharing details of these events with children who are preschool age and younger, unless they ask.
- Encourage kids to talk about how they are feeling and respond to those concerns.
- Remind kids how families help protect children; loving and supportive relationships can protect against anxiety.
- Continue to set clear expectations and provide instruction about how to be generally safe in society. Reminding children and adolescents about safety precautions they can take day to day can support an eventual return of a sense of safety in everyday life.
- Look for signs that a child is struggling to cope with their emotions: for young children; increased fear of separation, regression of skills (bed wetting, not wanting to dress themselves), hyperactivity or anger. For older children: increased isolation, irritability and seeming withdrawn or disinterested in school and friends. If you see these issues, talk to your child and seek assistance if necessary.
“Parents strive to make the world as safe as possible for their children,” Jetmalani says. “When things like this happen, it feels like the shield is broken. We can’t control horrible violence, but we can control how we express love and compassion on a daily basis.”