Three Ways to Help Your Child Return to School After Newtown School Shooting

Trauma specialist Dr. Saliha Bava offers advice to parents after Newtown school shooting.

What is the best way to prepare your child for Monday after the Newtown shooting?

Should you tell them what happened?

What about the differences in how much every kid will know about the shooting? What if they hear details from other kids?

Are you wondering what is the best course of action?

If you were not thinking about it, now you are. And yes, you need to be thinking. Not to be worried, but to be mindful and present. The simple answer to all these questions is “it depends.” I’m sharing tips for kids and families not directly impacted by the shooting.

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PREPARATION STEPS

The best approach to take is to be prepared to respond (as things unfold) rather than plan to control the outcome. The three ways you can prepare are:

  1. Stay tuned to your kid: Emotionally where is your child today? Do they already know or don’t know about the shooting? If they know about the shooting have you had a chance to talk about their thoughts and how they are feeling? (Wondering how to talk to you kids about difficult stuff? Go to the link at the end of the article). Your family context and his/her feelings about school (homework, grades, classmates etc) will all affect how your child processes other incoming experiences. Continue to play, draw, talk, tickle (laugh) and be with your kids.
  2. Stay attuned to your own expectations and reactions: How is your reaction affecting what you are focusing on? What are you doing that is potentially agitating for you or those around you? (Such news is upsetting and agitating which are human responses). What can you do to increase a sense of calmness? What new reactions are you having? Continue to breath out the sadness and disbelief.
  3. Attend to the context: While being mindful of your family’s context, attend to how family members are reacting differently from each other. Learn what efforts are being planned at the school, if any? Not drawing attention to the incident is action too, especially for younger children. How does that fit in with your expectation? Living in a networked world news travels from multiple channels (not only media). There is a chance that your child may hear the news, in spite all the steps you take to keep TV, radio and newspapers off limit. Your teen might hear from his/her friends while your younger child might not know anything. Context will vary by families, location and time.

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ACTION STEPS

Drop-off:

  • Stick to your drop off routine if your kid doesn’t know about the news. Keep play, a child’s language, at the center of your relationship.
  • Check with your school counselor or teacher—how is the school preparing? How will it address different children’s reactions and the differences in who knows what?
  • Get back to your routine. Stop pursuing the media in search of why this horrific senseless act happened. It will be days before we know, so let us weed out all the speculation clutter to manage our emotional clutter.

Pick-up:

  • Stick to your pick-up routine.
  • Stay tuned to how your child is acting or feeling. They may or may not know the news. So don’t assume from their behavior. Stay open to any questions they may have.
  • Feel free to ask open-ended questions “What did you do in school today?” “Did you learn anything interesting today?” Be playful! Even the serious stuff of life needs a creative response.

And the days after:

  • You got it! Stick to your routine!
  • And stay tuned to your kid, yourself and your context (family, school, life and work etc).
  • If your kids learn of the news sooner or later, talk to them in the age appropriate way. Attend to their version of the news in the context of your relationship in that moment. Learn how by visiting NYU’s Child Study Center’s tips for talking about tough topics. If your child appears upset by the news (it is ok! sooth and be with them) and if you need some more ideas on how to help him or her read my prior article on helping your child and read the National Association of School Psychologists’ guidance on what you can do.

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PLAYFUL STEPS

In the face of challenges, we often improvise and find our way. It is ok to be uncertain on how to be or how to do the “best” response. Be open to your child and play with the options and ideas and create with them to learn what works best for you and your family. There are a lot of factors at play and one size doesn’t fit all. Make these ideas your own! Keep love, play and relationship at the center of your attention and surround it with a sense of readiness, responsiveness and mindfulness. These are the activities by which we can create a sense of safety and flow in face of the senselessness (and in the face of the everyday stuff of life).

Share your story. Tell us how you are helping answer your child’s questions or prepare your child for school.

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This article is not a substitute for any professional help that might be needed.

If you have been directly impacted, please call 1-800-985-5990 or visit the website: http://www.disasterdistress.samhsa.gov/ and connect with the local resources in your community.

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About Dr Saliha Bava

Dr. Saliha Bava is a change consultant, couples therapist, and a leading thinker in the transformative field of play (improvisation) for successful living. She is the Director of Research at the International Trauma Studies Program and Associate Professor at Mercy College. She lives and practices in New York City. Follow Saliha on Twitter and Google.

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