Advice for parents struggling with kids, news of school shootings
Published Saturday, December 15, 2012 1:23PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, December 15, 2012 3:09PM EST
As parents, we go to unlimited lengths to protect our children. We bundle them into CSA-approved car seats, we keep our eye on crib and toy recalls, we toss out their plastic baby bottles and worry about their intake of food additives.
In their early years, we keep our children close to us, content in the belief we are in near-complete control of their safety.
When we finally have to send them off to kindergarten, our hearts ache as we watch them walk away to class into the care of virtual strangers. But we assure ourselves that the staff at our children’s schools are fully trained in their protection.
So when tragedies happen in schools like Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., we’re forced to come face-to-face with what might be the harshest reality of parenthood: that no matter how hard you try, no matter how many precautions you take, you can’t protect your children from everything.
Over the coming days and weeks, there will be plenty of discussion and hand-wringing about what could have been done to prevent this unbearable crime: about a gun culture that needs recalibrating and firearm laws that need tightening; about what went wrong in the school’s security system, which was apparently upgraded only recently; about whether the gunman had mental health issues that might have been spotted earlier.
But after all the arguments, there’s little alternative but to admit that, sometimes, horribly random, horribly senseless, horribly unthinkable things happen.
That’s not the message we will tell our children, of course.
We will follow the advice of child psychologists and keep them away from the television as much as we can over the next few days, protecting them from the images and ideas that could hijack their innocence. If our children are old enough to learn about such things and want to talk about it, we will listen to their fears while assuring them that they are safe and loved and protected.
What we shouldn’t tell our children is that something like this could never happen to them -- especially when we know that, sadly, that just isn’t true, says Dr. David Schonfeld, a pediatrician and director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
"I wouldn't provide false reassurance or dismiss legitimate concerns," he told The Associated Press. "We don't help children by telling them they shouldn't be afraid of things that are frightening."
Instead, as we try to rationalize the tragedy, we will remind our children – and most importantly, ourselves -- that school shootings are extraordinarily rare. As hard as it might be to believe right now, school violence has been in decline since 1990, despite the high-profile shootings that grab headlines a few times a year.
Schools are still among the safest places for our children to be – perhaps even safer than our carefully bubble-wrapped homes.
So perhaps the advice being given to parents about how to help our children understand this tragedy is advice we as parents should heed ourselves. Step back from it now and again, hug your children a little closer this weekend, and enjoy your children for just being children.
Tips from the Canadian Psychological Association for how parents can take care of themselves during times of trauma:
• Take breaks from the media reports and from thinking and talking about the events.
• Take time to relax and exercise. This will help decrease stress and tension and help you be more alert, sleep and eat better, and get back on track.
• Talk with friends, relatives, co-workers, teachers or leaders of your faith community.
Talk about your thoughts, feelings and reactions. Comfort one another. Talking with others can make you feel less alone and help you sort out reactions to the events.Remember to talk about the normal issuesand pleasures of your life as well - don’t let disaster take over every conversation.
• Some may be quite affected by these events, others less. Patience and understanding with one another are two of the best ways to help.
• Be careful about making major decisions if you are very upset.
• Get back to your daily routine. Do things you enjoy to help restore a sense of safety and control.
• Watch what you eat. Eat healthy foods.
• Be physically active, doing something you enjoy.
• Don’t use alcohol to numb your feelings. This can set up an unhealthy pattern and can lead to more serious problems down the road.
• Get a good night’s sleep.