Our deepest sympathies go out to the family members who have lost a loved one in the horrific Las Vegas mass shooting. As a nation, we must come together to support the families and the communities affected. It is also critical that we not forget the youngest and most vulnerable members of our community - our kids.
Hundreds of children will be impacted by this mass shooting. Kids have suddenly lost a parent, an aunt, an uncle, a teacher, a baby-sitter, a friend, a loved one... and we are going to have to explain the trauma of what just happened and help them cope.
Although no words can truly capture and explain the horror of the mass shooting, here are some suggestions for broaching this difficult topic:
Children who may have had the misfortune to lose a loved one to a traumatic death could develop anxiety, PTSD, depression, or other concerning behavioral symptoms. Providing a positive, simple, and reassuring framework to explain and process the traumatic death shifts the content from terrifying and overwhelming to understandable and manageable. Although we cannot stop children from witnessing or hearing about terrible deaths, as in gun violence, suicide, terrorist attacks, and even car accidents, we can provide them with words and tools that foster coping, resilience, and adaptation.
As we live in an increasingly violent world, it is essential that parents, educators, and other adult caregivers not forget the silent victims, the innocent bystanders, the children who are watching, listening, and feeling from the sidelines. Most importantly, if kids are living in fear and worry that it could happen again, at any time, to them and their loved ones, we need to continue to send the powerful reassuring message of hope and safety to children, and deliver the actions that will keep our children and families safe.
Parents, teachers, pediatricians, ER doctors, counselors, and social workers in schools, shelters, community clinics, and hospitals, who are the first to observe socio-emotional and physical symptoms in children, need to be proactive in asking children about their exposure to weapon violence. Mental health professionals need to begin to develop and deliver intervention and prevention programs in schools, clinics, and shelters for the vast number of children and teenagers exposed to lethal weapon violence.
Kids Matter: It takes a village to help kids thrive.