9 Tips for Helping Kids Deal with Events Like the Troutdale School Shooting

by | Jun 16, 2014 | Class plans, Families, Mental Health, Trauma

Within a day of last week’s shooting at Reynolds High School in Troutdale – just outside of Portland here and where some of Lynea’s colleagues work – several particular posts about it began cropping up on Facebook a lot. One was especially sad and sobering:


Though subsequent coverage has challenged that glaring number of 74, any school shooting is one too many. And when one happens, we say “never again,” and in our collective grief and anger, we do mean what we say. And then it happens again.

Unfortunately, this kind of violence – whether on school grounds or in shopping malls or office buildings or anywhere – has no simple solution. We need to address the complexity of the problem and understand the roots of this epidemic in our society. It is not a simple “guns or no guns” issue. There are many things contributing to these shootings.

As counselors, parents, teachers and educators, we need to work as a team to identify and address the underlying causes of the violence that is breaking out in our culture. Among those issues we need to understand and address:

  • Affordable mental health care for families.
  • Support in the schools, where counselors have been cut.
  • Contributing factors such as media violence, violent video games and isolation.
  • The unique needs and challenges boys face in our culture.
  • he stressful environments in our schools and workplaces.

We also need to help children find appropriate ways of releasing anger and tension – and to develop positive habits. This requires time, effort, resources and, above all, commitment. Acquiring skills and solutions is a long-term, ongoing process. Just as our problems with a violent culture did not emerge overnight, neither will a positive, strong, affirming and nurturing alternative.

Even so, we still have to deal with the fact that we live in a world in which such violence routinely occurs. Events like the Troutdale shooting can make the world seem a much scarier and more threatening place than it is in our day to day existence, especially for young children. They want and need a sense of safety and security that events like these – and our reactions to them – seem poised to snatch away.

We must address these in the here and now. In the interview below, Lynea offers advice to parents and other adults for helping the children in their lives deal with traumatic events, followed by her top 9 tips:

  1. As much as possible, stay calm. Don’t go into a hyper-alert state.
  2. Answer their questions directly but don’t elaborate. Adults often tell more than a child is ready to hear or able to understand. Answer only the question they ask, then wait to see if they have more questions.
  3. In her counseling work with children, Lynea often explains that there are many ways to get sick: Some people get sick in their stomach or lungs or heart; some get sick in their minds. When people have an illness that affects their minds, they don’t think well. It’s sad for everyone when this happens. The child may ask how someone can get an illness in their mind. You can say that we don’t always know, but if we take good care of our bodies, minds and hearts, we can help prevent it. You can also tell them that there are many doctors who are helping people heal and that we continue to find new ways to help people who get sick.
  4. Acknowledge their feelings of sorrow and confusion, then remind them that people are strong and resilient, and that right now many good people are helping those who are hurt. Most of the time we can prevent bad things from happening, but sometimes we can’t. What we can do, always, is help people heal from these events.
  5. Tell the children about specific ways people are helping: people who hold prayer vigils, our president sitting and crying with the families affected…. There are even people who have brought food to the parents of the man accused of the shooting, because they are in pain, too. This is how we help each other heal.
  6. It’s ok for your child to see you cry. You can tell young children that you are washing the sad feelings out of your heart. You can tell older ones that crying is one of the ways our bodies help heal us. It’s important, though, to let your children know that you are strong and don’t need them to take care of you. You can model how to have compassion and sorrow, and also be strong. In fact, people who release their emotions are healthier than those who bottle them up.
  7. Limit the amount of time you watch the news or talk about the event. The news is often reported with a tone of emergency, and children pick up on this. It can frighten them.
  8. If you talk about the event in front of your children, spend as much time speaking about the healing efforts as you do about the tragedy. Choose calming, grounding activities to help your child come back to a feeling of safety.
  9. The questions may keep coming for several days or even months. You may see young children acting out the scenario in their play. This is how they process. Allow the play and continue to remind them about the healing efforts. If your child seems unable to be comforted, seek help from a professional counselor.

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