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The innocence is gone..here is what you can do

BostonTragedy (1)
The world is changing and safe places such as schools are no longer safe. There have been two incidences in Aliso Viejo within roughly two weeks of each other where Elementary schools have been the target of threats.

If you are a parent where your child attends either of the two schools that were targeted there are things you can do to ease the stress and anxiety of this situation. It is critical to know that many children react to trauma differently than adults do. There are as many reactions as there are people. The world may suddenly seem dangerous and unsafe. Your child may feel overwhelmed by intense emotions, and not understand how to cope with these feeling.

Here is how you as a parent can help.

1) Faith in God is the most significant help in time of grief, loss and uncertainty. Attend worship services, pray together, and seek spiritual counseling.

2) Help your child talk about the event. Let them know that it’s normal to feel worried, upset, scared and uncertain. Try to listen carefully and understand what they are saying. Reflet back to your child what you hear them telling you. If your child does not talk, it can be very helpful to say how you might be feeling if you were them experiencing what they had just experienced. Many times children will chime in and agree with what you are saying and even add more information or correct you.

3) When you talk about the event, be honest. Don’t diminish the nature of the situation. Talk about what happened that is age appropriate and share clear, accurate information that is age appropriate. Ask your child what she/he thinks has happened and what kids at school are saying. If he/she has any misconceptions, this is a chance to help correct false fears and misinformation. If your child knows upsetting details that are true, don’t deny them. Instead listen closely and talk with him/her about their fears.

4) It might be a good idea to limit the amount of TV news coverage you child sees. Too much repeated coverage could just heighten your child’s anxiety.

5) Try to be patient if your child keeps asking the same questions again and again. Let your child talk as often as he/she needs to about the traumatic event. Talking about the event is a way for your child to gain control of feelings that follow a trauma and to try and make sense of what happened.

6) Talk with your child about your own feelings. Explain how the trauma or event is affecting you. Admit that you are saddened and upset . But don’t burden your child with your fears and worries. Find other adults to talk to about those.

7) Reassure your child that your family and community are safe and that events like these are rare.

Remember that this may be the first time your child is experiencing a scary and dangerous situation. Expect him/her to have many feelings – anger, sorrow, fear, and confusion. In a situation where someone could have died the feeling of guilt is common. Assure your child that all of these feelings are normal.

If there had been a previous traumatic or scary situation in your child’s life this current situation may bring up old pain. Take the time to reflect with your child on how he/she has recovered from previous times.

8) Your child may feel afraid and upset following the traumatic event and may no longer feel “normal”. He/she may show his/her fears in ways that he/she did when he/she was younger –by have night terrors, crying, being clingy, or being overly fearful. These behaviors are normal. Try to be loving and understanding. Remember “when we are stressed we regress”. Coping with a traumatic event takes time. Your child needs extra love and support from you during this period.

9) Don’t assume that just because your child hasn’t said something about the trauma that he/she is OK and isn’t affected by it. Sometimes children are confused by a traumatic event, and want to avoid it, not talk about it, or are afraid to show their vulnerability. You may need to take the first step and bring up the subject when and you and your child have time together.

10) You might suggest that your child keep a journal to record his moods, thoughts, feelings, and worries. For younger children you can encourage them to draw their thoughts, feelings and worries. This can be helpful in coping with the powerful emotions, disturbing thoughts and feelings.

11) Help your child find comforting routines as a way to cope – listening to favorite music, doing art work, playing basketball, or other activities. This is a time to keep routines simple at home.

12) Encourage your child to become involved, as a way to overcome feeling of helplessness. Powerlessness is painful for adults and children. Be active in a campaign to prevent an event like this one from happening again. Write letters to people who helped or to another victim. Connecting and caring for others who have experienced a similar situation brings a sense of hope and control.

13) Temporarily lower expectations of school and home performance. Your child’s attention and emotional energy may be focused elsewhere for a few days or week.

14) Encourage your child to talk with other adults about the event. This might be a school counselor, teacher, member of the clergy, or someone else from the community that your child feels close to and trusts.

15) Most important of all, try to be there for your child. Give extra attention and support. Be affectionate. Give hugs. Make efforts to spend time together, have meals together and be together.

16) Stay strong as a parent. Keep in mind that your own behavior is a powerful example for your child. How your child copes with a traumatic event will depend, to some measure, on how you as a parent cope. Your child is looking to all the adults around him/her – parents, teachers, relatives, clergy and others to find ways to deal with the event. It is important for you to stay strong as a parent.

17) Take care of your own physical well being and stick to schedules. Seek support from others. Because you are also responding to trauma, it is very important to talk with other parents, friends, counselors and other adults. Share your anxieties and frustration with them and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Give yourself time to reflect and process.

Usually a child’s reactions to a traumatic event do not last long. If the following persist for more than a few weeks, you should seek expert help.

Troubled sleep or frequent nightmares
Fear of going to school, going outside or being left alone
Changes in behavior (unusual quietness, unresponsiveness, or tiredness.)
Angry outbursts, acting-out behavior
Excessive clinging
Excessive crying
Headaches or stomach aches
Alcohol or drug abuse
Change in appetite (increased or decreased)
Loss of interest in once pleasurable activities
Drop in grades
Isolation, spending more time than usual alone

Dr. Courtney Harkins, Psy.D, is a local licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and mother to three young children. She runs a private practice as well as works with children at various organizations in Orange County. She specializes in adoption and parent child attachment, and is currently a doctoral candidate for clinical psychology.

*Adopted from Servite High and JSerra High School

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