On Friday, December 14, 2012, a lone gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. When he was done, 26 people lay dead, including 20 young children. This is only the latest in a long line of school shootings that have left the nation shocked and grieving.
How do we cope after such a tragedy?
Simple Coping Skills That Work
On September 11, 2001, I was teaching an anger management class to high school students when I received the news about the World Trade Center being attacked. In the days and weeks that followed, I helped those students and others, including children, teens, and adults, cope with the tragedy. Many of the coping skills that worked for them will work for people in the wake of a tragic school shooting, as well.
Limit Your Exposure to the Media
It’s natural to want to be kept informed after a school shooting, but watching endless replays of video of students running from their school building or of parents and students sobbing in each others’ arms isn’t keeping you informed. It’s just searing frightening, painful images into your brain. You don’t have to avoid the news altogether, but you can limit your exposure to such images.
Stick to Your Normal Routine
Stick to your normal routine as much as possible. Don’t stay up late watching the news coverage of the shooting. Don’t keep your kids home from school the next day, unless there is reason to believe they would be in danger if they went to school or they are so traumatized by the shooting that they aren’t able to function well enough to go to school (if your child attends the school where the shooting occurred, school will probably be cancelled the next day, of course). Your usual routine will provide a sense of normality and comfort.
Feel Your Feelings
If you feel frightened, anxious, angry, sad, or a combination of all these emotions and more, it’s all right. It’s normal to have many emotions after something like a school shooting. Let yourself feel your feelings. Talk about your feelings. Don’t try to push them away or shut them out.
Reach out to Loved Ones
The day of the school shooting in Newton, Connecticut, many of my friends who are parents told me that they couldn’t want to get home and hug their kids. Do that. Reach out to friends and family members. If you attend church, reach out to your congregation. Reach out to neighbors, coworkers, anyone you can. Comfort one another and be grateful you have someone to hug.
Look for Something Positive to Do
After the school shooting in Connecticut, one friend of mine told me she planned to write letters to her children’s teachers, thanking them for the wonderful job they did. She was touched by the teachers that sacrificed their own lives to protect their students and wanted to do something for the teachers of her own children. I thought that was a wonderful response to the tragedy. Finding something positive to do can be empowering and it allows you to focus on things like love, caring, compassion, and understanding instead of anger and hate.
Get Help If You Need It
While these simple coping skills will help many people get through the difficult aftermath of a school shooting, some people will need more help than this. If you’re having anxiety, anger, or depression that interferes with your ability to do the everyday things you need to do, it’s time to seek professional help.
CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/14/us/connecticut-school-shooting/index.html. Police: 20 Children Among 26 Victims of Connecticut School Shooting.
The News-Herald. http://news-herald.com/articles/2012/12/16/news/doc50cd35efa5a4e113651510.txt. Connecticut School Shooting: Coping with Trauma in Wake of Tragedy.
National Association of School Psychologists. http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/terror_general.aspx. A National Tragedy: Helping Children Cope.