It happened again. A parent’s worst nightmare. This time in Uvalde, TX. The end of this school year (post-pandemic) should have ONLY been filled with joy for our kids after two years of abnormality. Instead, almost twenty families will never be the same. It’s heartbreaking. Although the summer months are still in front of us as I write this, I’m sure many parents are already thinking about the fall…scared about school and filled with anxiety about sending their children back.
I don’t blame them. I am one of them.
And what about the kids who are at an age where they “get it”? It can be a struggle on how best to talk to and support our children when they ask us, “is it safe for me to go to school today?”
I reached out to Boca Raton therapist Lori Lundin-Fish, PhD, LMFT of Palm Beach Therapy Center, for some tips on how to cope.
What’s a parent to do right now, Dr. Lori?
Normalize and validate your fears. Know you are not alone. Everyone has been affected by this devastating news, and there is a heavy sense of grief and sadness shared throughout the country–especially among parents. It is normal to experience feelings of fear, anxiety, grief, and sadness. Rather than pushing these emotions away, it may be more helpful to honor and respect that these emotions exist. It is our ability to be compassionate and human.
Have a healthy support system. It is imperative that each individual has a strong support system to help process these complex emotions.
Practice grounding skills-anything that welcomes calmness. Consistently focusing on the problem will not alleviate the problem itself. In fact, it can cause more emotional distress and pain. It is important to welcome healthier coping skills, such as writing or journaling, engaging in physical activities such as going to the gym/working out, going for a walk or a bike ride. Other healthy coping skills include reading, listening to a helpful podcast, taking a warm bath, practicing breathing exercises, or speaking to a therapist.
How can we best support our children if they are old enough to understand the situation?
Depending on the age of your child, there are different ways of approaching this delicate subject. For preschoolers and early elementary school students, children may not be aware of the situation or the news. Remain mindful of their behavior as well as any comments/questions they may have. Practice patience and being present in each moment in order to better monitor potential differences or curiosities that may need to be explored.
For older children, it is helpful to allow them to have a safe space to reflect, process and ask questions. As parents, it may be important to begin by asking your children what information they do know about the tragic event. Provide them with plenty of reassurance in letting them know they can always turn to you with questions they may have.
Provide your children with correct information. However, it is also important be mindful about how much you are sharing. It can be overwhelming for children to know all of the details involved. Sharing too much information can create further anxiety and fear.
Remain calm and thoughtful in your responses. Validate your children’s emotions and encourage them to reach out for support anytime they may need to. Allow your children the ability to be authentic in what they are feeling and explore their emotions and thoughts together. Let them know it is okay to cry.
Continue to lead the conversation with curious questions and remember to practice active listening throughout in order to gain a better understanding for what is happening for your child. Reflect often on their emotions and their experiences.
What are some steps parents can actively take over the summer, so we feel confident in sending our kids back to school this fall?
The “unknown” can be very scary for many people. Remaining vigilant at all times is very important. Your school will likely already have emergency drills in place. If you are feeling worried, contact the school to discuss all safety precautions that they have adopted in order to eliminate any possible risk. Obtaining knowledge in these matters helps decrease the unknown variables and increase confidence.
When it feels as though there is so much chaos in the world, maintaining a rational perspective can also help. It is evident that significant changes need to take place within our system. Recent studies (Secret Service and Department of Education) found that school shooters would often plan their attacks in advance. In planning their attacks in advance, they also seem to share their plans online through social media platforms. Everyone can play a vital role in reporting potential signs and preventing these tragedies from occurring by maintaining self-awareness and reporting possible threats.
As this has unfortunately become a growing concern across the country, parents, teachers, and school staff have become increasingly more vigilant and aware: if you see something say something!
Many parents often begin to wonder what other options are within their control in “keeping our kids safe,” such as homeschooling. However, for many working parents, this is simply unrealistic. Remember to be mindful of these emotions as well as how they may affect you.
As parents, we often prioritize our children’s needs above all else. In doing so, we may also forget to practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself and remain patient as you work through your own process. Keep in mind that in any decision you make, you are doing the best you can for your child and family.
Now is the time to speak up and protect our children from the repeating cycle of gun violence here in the U.S. We cannot afford to be silent. Together, we must demand policy and legislative changes to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our kids to grow up in.
How can this happen? What is this world coming to? These are the questions that are likely on everyone’s mind…especially parents. Not too long ago, another school shooting took place and made every parent’s worst fear become a reality. Words cannot truly express the amount of grief and fear that so many have been experiencing all over the country. Why and how does this keep happening? And what can we do to stop it?
It shouldn’t be like this…scared about school. We as a country and society need to do a great deal of work to invite significant and much needed change. Advocating is another way of coping with such a tragedy. It can be helpful and therapeutic to volunteer your time, write letters, or donate money to help bring about awareness and change.
Our hearts deserve to feel peace and safety when sending our children to school.
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