Mental health expert offers tips for helping children as they grieve the school shooting in Uvalde - Fix Bdsthanhhoavn

Mental health expert offers tips for helping children as they grieve the school shooting in Uvalde

By now, many children have already learned about the school shooting in Uvalde on May 24. Kerry Horrell, a psychologist at The Menninger Clinic, said news of the events can impact their mental health.

The Washington Post recently reported that since 15 people were killed at Columbine High School in 1999, more than 311,000 students from 331 schools were on campus when a school shooting took place.

Horrell reflected on the plague of school shootings across the United States and said if the massacre in Uvalde that killed 19 students and two teachers has been devastating for adults, their children can be just as overwhelmed.

“Ultimately, I think one of the things that they need the most is a sense that their grownups, their caregivers, parents, the people that they rely on to survive, are doing their best to keep them safe and that there are good people out there who are trying to help when there are bad things happening,” Horrell explained.

Younger children, she said, may show their emotions and reactions through increased clinginess, asking questions or being more aggressive or violent in their play. They may also have some bathroom accidents. Teens and tweens likely have questions for their parents and want to discuss what happened. Horrell said they can experience anxiety but are able to voice their concerns instead of showing them through behaviors like younger children. Teens might show irritability, withdrawal, changes in motivation and increased difficulty in focusing or concentrating.

Horrell said if the indicators go on for several weeks and hinder a child’s ability to function academically or socially or if a child is clearly emotionally distressed, parents should seek professional help.

She said while parents may have some anxiety about talking about what happened with their children, starting a conversation and asking them what they have heard is important. Silence around the massacre can exacerbate more anxiety. Horrell suggested listening first and then asking their children what they have heard and what they think about it.

Sharing appropriate details and fostering a sense of security at home or at school by going over a family or classroom security plan, for example, can decrease a child’s anxiety, Horrell said. She also suggests maintaining structure, limiting social media access and turning off the TV at times to take a break from the news. For younger children, providing more physical comfort and snuggles can help.

When children, tweens and teens are worried about what happened in Uvalde possibly happening in their own lives, Horrell encourages parents to validate those emotions and let them know they are working hard to keep them safe. Also, parents can talk about people like police officers, paramedics, firefighters, doctors and nurses who step in to help people in crisis.

Horrell said the media can often focus on the person who committed the crime, but she wishes news outlets would provide more coverage of people helping survivors, families and the communities who were affected. She said there have been slow shifts toward that. She encourages families to find ways they can also help through volunteering or donating to a cause that is meaningful to them.

Adults and children alike may find some solace in taking stock of what makes them grateful as they grieve, Horrell said.

Having fun or laughing can feel inappropriate to some after such a tragedy. But Horrell explained that having a balance around grief is important. She added that the children and adults killed would want people to carry on with their lives and not feel survivor’s guilt because they lived when others died. A way to honor them is to continue living life.

“Where we maintain our routine, we still find time to connect and laugh and engage in music and art and play,” Horrell said. “We, alongside of the suffering we’re experiencing as a state and as a community, we can take that time to still enjoy life.”

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