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How to help and connect with your child after a violent experience.

During Tuesday’s shooting in Jersey City, over 40 schools, ranging from daycares to high schools, remained in lockdown for over 4 hours during an active shooting. Children texted, parents wanted to pick up their children, but, streets were closed, lights were out in classrooms, social media was banned, anxiety ran high.

It is saddening that articles like this need to be written and that these kinds of activities need to be considered. The last thing anyone wants to do is have to discuss these things with their child and hear their tender response to an experience that you wish you could erase from their mind.

Mental health is at the core of many, if not most of the violence read in the news today. Experiencing, being threatened by, or just knowing about a traumatic experience through a close friend or relative can result in a child’s distress, post traumatic stress disorder, and posttraumatic stress symptoms [1]

It is important to note that research also shows that mood can alter the brain’s ability to remember and learn. [2] For us adults this might mean that we can’t keep it together for a day or several after an experience of trauma, and for a child it may mean that they have a harder time remembering or applying something new they learned.

For all these reasons it is important for us to help ourselves and the children around us process these experiences in healthy ways . This will also give you a better picture of where you are so you can truly empathize with your child and will let you know where you child stands when they are done with the activity.

Now you may be thinking, how am I supposed to do this?

You may also feel overwhelmed by it.

In either case or both, it is important for you to know the following:

You are already doing a great job because you are reading this!!!

The rest is just a list of instructions. With your care, you will do a great job!

Step 1 is to try this for yourself. This will give you the opening to have a real conversation with your child about how they are feeling, since you are also sharing.

Try one of the next 2 activities to process and express your current emotions about this situation.

Activity Option 1: he-ART it out

Step 1: Gather Materials

1 sheet of notepaper

1 sheet of Letter size paper or larger. Blank is preferable, but use whatever you have at home.

Crayons, Markers, Watercolor, Colored Pencils, anything you have at home.

Step 2:Make a list of feelings you feel about this experience.

Step 3: With the tool of your choice, draw a heart that covers most of the span of the paper.

Step 4. Use different colors, swirls, lines, and free flowing irregular shapes to express your feelings.

Step 5. Label each feeling.

Step 6. Think about all the feelings you have expressed. What feelings would you like to transform to better feeling ones?

Are you afraid? Would you like to feel safe?

Are you restless? Would you like to feel calm?

Now that you have a hold on where you are, you will be able to connect to your child on a deeper level.

Step 7. Try this with your Child

Scroll Down to "How to take your child through process"

Activity Option 2: Write it Out

Step 1: Gather Materials

1 sheet of note paper

pen or pencil

Step 2: Make a list of feelings you feel about this experience.

Step 3: Write about how you are feeling about this experience, don’t filter yourself.

Step 4. Think about all the feelings you have expressed. What feelings would you like to transform to better feeling ones?

Are you afraid? Would you like to feel safe?

Are you restless? Would you like to feel calm?

Now that you have a hold on where you are, you will be able to connect to your child on a deeper level.

Step 7. Take your child through this process.

How to take your child through this process

This is a great way to introduce this idea to your child.

“Hi, I just made something' or you can say "I worked really hard on something can I show you?”

Bringing your child into something you did as a grown up can be a powerful experience for them, and way more valuable than just doing something you’re asking them to do.

Once you have their attention, you can tell them how you did this because you really wanted to check in with yourself about this situation. You can also share how experiences like this can sometimes leave some residue on our hearts and you just wanted to clean it up. Then show them your work.

If you chose to write a letter, you don’t have to let them read it, but you can show them your list. You can let them know that they will also receive the same right to privacy if they choose.

Share your emotions about this situation using age appropriate language and examples, also share how just doing this activity helped you feel better about it.

Now ask them to give it a try.

If the answer is no, in a non judgemental way, ask, “Do you think this is something you’d like to do later ?” Check back in with them at a later time or not depending on their answer. Continue to "Tips for Parents of Children who Experienced Trauma"

If they would like to give it a try, give them options for the same 2 activities. Allow them time to process and think while making their feelings lists. If it helps, you can ask them about how they feel in the morning when they wake up, how they feel before going to school, on the way to school, and so forth until they reach bedtime. This will jog their memory about experiences which will help them develop a list for their art.

Here are some tips for debriefing this activity with your child.

Let your child share their expressed feelings with you, they may want to read their letter out loud, have you read it to yourself, or want to share every color on their art with you, allow them to choose their way of sharing.

While listening, remain curious and open, try to avoid common communication pitfalls like jumping to conclusions or invalidating feelings by saying things like, “You shouldn’t feel like that.”

Reserve questions or comments for after their explanation.

Make sure to thank them for sharing this with you.

Children may address safety concerns and fear of neighborhood environment, or sadness and anger. Safety concerns are normal and to be expected. This is a good time to empathize with them and remind them that they are not alone in this. It is also a good time to remind them that these situations are not a regular occurence, that there are heroes out there everyday that are working hard to protect them and everyone, and that schools and public areas are a safe place to be.

If your child is concerned about why people do bad things, read this article for helpful information on that topic.

If your child mentions violence against a particular social group, this is a great article for parents that discusses the importance of treating ALL people with Tolerance and Human Dignity.

Parents should monitor their child’s behavior after an experience like this.

For more information on this please visit the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute

(Tips for Parents of Children Exposed to Violent Events)

For more valuable information try these:

Thank you for reading and aiming to influence the lives of the children in your life in a positive way. If you liked this and would like to receive more information on social emotional learning, it’s tools, and how you can bring them into your life.

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Bellis, M.D, Zisk A.B, The Biological Effects of Childhood Trauma, National Institutes of Health,, 2014

Figueira S.B, Oliveira L,Pereira M.G, Pacheco L.B, Lobo I, Ribeiro G.M, David I.A,An unpleasant emotional state reduces working memory capacity: electrophysiological evidence, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health 2017


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