Counseling Keys

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How to Talk to Your Kids after a Mass Shooting Incident

Tips for Managing Grief at Work and at Home

It’s Monday. The kickoff of a new workweek. But this Monday is different. A nightmare happened last Friday and news reports fill the airwaves about the Connecticut elementary school massacre, leaving millions of people feeling conflicted about the arrival of Monday. Parents, and children, may fear school. Some adults may feel glad to escape the news and get back to work. Others may feel numb. Still others may feel motivated to DO something and go on a mission in an attempt alleviate any potential similar tragedies. Whatever the feelings may be, you, your workplace and your family will be affected. As such, here are a few ideas to consider for responding to the tragedy.

1. Know that you are dealing with real grief. Even if you live far away from Connecticut and are not directly impacted, it affects you. Feelings of hopelessness, fear, rage, numbness, dissociation, confusion, and countless others feelings can come up for you. Therefore, be gentle with yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you’re a bit forgetful, distracted, and off your game.

2. Take time to process the tragedy with those around you. If you are a manager, take time to have a staff meeting and let people share how they feel about what happened. Giving people the time to share their feelings can help them (and you) heal. Then discuss what you can do together. Brainstorm. Perhaps your company can send something to the families affected. Or maybe you can do something local to cultivate community and build healthy relationships with those around you. Maybe partake in a community picnic, park cleanup, create a community talent show, and/or volunteer at the local children’s hospital.

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3. Talk to your children. Even if you have spared them from hearing the news on the television all weekend (which is a wise thing to do), they are probably talking about it at school and hearing their friends’ version of what happened. So, take family time to sit and talk—but before you give your account of what happened, LISTEN to what they have to say. Be open and patient so that they trust you enough to share EVERTHING they’ve heard. The more you listen and honor their feelings, the more they will share—giving you the opportunity to address the deeper fears they may have wanted to hide from you. Remember, kids try to protect you and are highly sensitive to cues you give them, so being open and calm and allaying your own anxiety and controlling reactions is key to effectively listening to them.

4. Act appropriately. When people feel out of control, they respond by trying to take control. What happened doesn’t make sense. It’s tempting to point fingers at one cause and attack, however, there most likely is not one cause to defend against. For instance, some media reports have pointed to mental illness. In this case, we know the shooter was diagnosed with Asbergers, but that is not the cause of the horrific behavior. Most likely, it was a combination of factors (a perfect storm, if you will) that led to the tragedy. Therefore, temper yourself if you find yourself vilifying (even internally) and generalizing your fear to a group of people. More likely, it’s your internal attempt to soothe yourself by taking control. Instead, try feeling and sending compassion, love and healing energy to the families affected in Connecticut and to those around you.

5. Breathe. Stop and take deep breaths. Feel your body. Feel the Ethereal. Pray to your Higher Power. Find balance between your body, your feelings, your thoughts, and your Spirit. Taking care of you will help you take care of those around you.

My prayers are with you and the families in Connecticut. I, too, feel devastated, shocked, powerless, and frightened. When 9-11 happened, we were called to rally together as a Nation. My prayer and hope is that from this devastating wake-up call, we will all finally come together and realize we are actually one connected family.

Chief Seattle, famous for portraying that mankind is but one thread in the web of life, said of death, “Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death, only change of worlds.”

 

Kimberly Key is past division president of the American Counseling Association and author of Ten Keys to Staying Empowered in a Power Struggle.

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