As I sit in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting in this country, trying to absorb the gravity of the news that 14 second, third and fourth graders and one educator are dead. As of now, one 10-year-old girl is fighting for her life; it’s early, there might be more. As the parent of an 11-year old boy, this is worse for me than others, as painful as the rest have been. Less than 2-weeks ago, my hometown of Buffalo experienced a senseless mass shooting leaving 10 dead and a heartbroken community. At the time of Sandy Hook, my son was small and as a new mother, I dealt with the trauma by avoiding it; to this day I cannot watch or listen to the stories.
As a therapist and mother, my thoughts tonight are centered around questions like, “how do I send my beloved, only child into his fifth grade classroom tomorrow”? I know logically that I have to and I realize that I cannot shield him from all possible harm, but the mother in me screams to keep him home. I share this personal part of myself to let you know that if you are feeling afraid, anxious, overprotective, and angry, that it is okay to feel that way. We are in the midst of over 2 years of trauma related to COVID and we cannot heal from it because we are inundated by traumas on a daily basis. It’s normal to feel helpless and struggle to find things that you can control in the aftermath of a tragedy. Here are some tips, from the therapist in me, to help you get through this tragedy.
Talk to Your Kids: We don’t want to scare our children, so we might avoid talking to them about school shootings, but discussing these events in an age-appropriate way, can help families deal with these tragedies together. As much as we’d like to shelter them from these realities, they’re likely to hear about them from another source, so starting a dialogue at home offers them a safe space to share their feelings and ask questions. Parents can normalize their feelings, help them to identify their emotions, and share strategies to manage anxiety.
Allow Yourself to Feel: Whatever you’re feeling, it’s okay to feel that way. Anger, terror, trauma, rage, grief, sadness, powerless, helpless, hopeless, just to name a few….they’re all valid and you have to feel them to get through them. Reach out to your support system, talk to friends and family, journal, just allow yourself to process the feelings.
Focus on What You Can Control: I often use the idea of a circle of control with clients. The idea being that the things in life or about a situation that we can’t control go in the outer circle and what we can control lands in the inner circle. The items in the inner circle often outnumber the items in the outer circle, which is certainly true in times like these, but focusing on what we can control, gives us a sense of agency and something positive to focus on during difficult times. Some ideas: engage in advocacy, reach out to your kids’ school to discuss safety plans, if you are spiritual or religious, focus on your faith, and lastly take care of yourself and your family.
If you find that you are struggling with the unfolding traumas please reach out to a therapist.