As our nation searches for answers following the incident in Newtown, Conn., the usual discussion about gun control is now joined by a conversation about mental health and the availability of treatment services to those in need. It is a conversation we should welcome.
But we should also recognize and appreciate the support provided for the survivors of Newtown; it illustrates the strength of the human spirit and the power each of us has to help heal one another.
As mental health professionals continue to provide professional support to the people of Newtown, the event’s impact can still be felt on many communities throughout our nation and the world.
Our parents and teachers might be struggling with this news, wondering how to respond to the questions from our children. We all want to say and do the right thing. There are ways that we can help our children cope with these general feelings of anxiety:
- Let them know they are safe. If you notice signs of anxiety, such as mood changes, nightmares, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, reassure your child that they are in a safe environment.
- Invite them to talk about their feelings and experiences. Your child might not start the conversation, but you can open it by saying something like, “A lot has happened. Is there anything that worries you?”
- Suggest other forms of expression of feelings such as drawing a picture, writing a poem or letter, or making something.
- Be aware of the media images your child is exposed to about the tragedy, and limit their ability to see the news footage of the incident that is shown repetitively.
- Try and keep everyday routines, such as eating, sleeping, school and extracurricular activities. These routines will help maintain a sense of normalcy and security.
- Encourage family/friend time. Spend more playful and creative time with family and friends to encourage expression and create a supportive and positive environment.
- Be sure to take care of yourself, as your well-being will reassure your child that all is well.
- If they would like to do something for those who have been impacted by the event, suggest they draw a picture, write a poem, story or letter, or create their own way to help.
- Remember that everyone may be impacted differently. Worry and fear are normal reactions to an event like this. If the symptoms you are noticing don’t clear after 10 days, seek additional help from a professional.
While we cannot change what has happened in Newtown, we can continue to come together as a community and demonstrate our care and compassion. And it’s in these acts, that the holiday spirit can live on all year round. Peace on Earth.