Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Help Kids Talk About Their Feelings When Traumatic Events Happen

It’s been a month since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  It still reverberates for many of us.  No matter how much we want to keep the world safe for our children, tragedies like this will happen again.   None the less, we can help children voice their fears, offer them comfort, and help them develop skills to deal with frightening experiences. 


You can’t talk children out of feeling afraid or offer them reassurance too quickly.  They need time to express their feelings and know that you will respect them.  Hearing news like the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School will feel scary to them. School is where much of their daily life takes place; when something frightening happens in a school their sense of security will be shaken.  Schools suddenly might not feel safe anymore.  Help them voice all the things they’re worried about.   Getting their feelings out will help lessen their power.   Reassurance can then follow, which will help them put their fears in perspective. After all, fear is our normal response to frightening and life threatening events.  There are times in our life when it makes sense to feel afraid and vulnerable.


Children will want to know if something like this could happen to them in their school.   Explain how unusual this situation is, and how unlikely it is that they would ever experience such an event.   Let them know what safety measures are already in place at their school, and that experts are working on making their school, and all schools, even safer.   Children might also wonder if they are safe at home.   Review any safety routines you already have in place and make sure children know how to call for help; have the phone numbers of reliable family and friends available.


When scary things happen we all feel more vulnerable. We seek comfort in being with people we love.   Children will also seek more contact.  Your presence will be reassuring.  Make more time to hang out and be around. Children might not know how to ask for this, but instead might be clingy, show regressed behavior or act out.


When there is wide coverage of a news story, especially centered on school violence, it might not be possible to know what children have learned. It’s good to check out what they’ve already heard before offering an explanation. You might first need to correct misinformation or distortions.  You can then retell a more accurate story.


It’s also a good idea to limit exposure.  Children are exposed to too much information that is beyond their ability to understand.  Exposure through small doses and lots of conversation make difficult things more manageable for children.  


When thinking about something scary, it can often be healing to imagine a more positive outcome.    You might ask what a child would wish might have happened.   Ask them to tell you a story about this or create a collaborative story with rich details and images.    Imagining a different outcome can be calming and can create a new image to replace the scary one.   It can also remind us that positive and cooperative behavior is more typical than violent and destructive behavior.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Fortify Our Schools With Social Resources Not Armed Guards

Aside from the obvious need for gun control, we need to reexamine our mental health system.   Right now there are simply not enough resources.   We need affordable and accessible preventative services which can support families experiencing difficult times and excessive stress.  
Over the years, I have sat with many families who are stretched beyond their limit.  I’ve wondered how they carry on and have admired their fortitude.   I’ve seen the self sacrifice of parents, the strain on siblings and families’ overall distress.     I also know how much better things could have been if they had early and consistent support and resources.   My wish would be a system of early detection and regular monitoring so that children and families get the care they need.  

How about mini mental health clinics located in schools?    Schools are part of our collective community and could be a great place to detect early signs of emotional disturbance.  Schools already are alert to signs of learning challenges or developmental delays.   Teachers, who have many hours with our children, can provide vital information about how they are doing emotionally as well educationally.  Of course, teachers already do some of this, but they don’t have the backup resources that would professionally assess and then act on their concerns.

These resources could be especially important for families who struggle with a child who is prone to violence.   There are currently few adequate programs providing this kind of support.   Families are either faced with a public psychiatric admission, which is usually traumatic and short term, or a private psychiatric hospital, often prohibitively expensive; or the option of arrest and becoming part of the juvenile justice system.  These current options are limited or inadequate.   Certainly we could create an infrastructure of more effective community based programs that would provide safely for family members and society in general.  

 Read the heartfelt blog by Liza Long in the Blue Review.   Liza is a mother who struggles with a child who at times can be loving, but then violent and out of control.   She gives us a window into what it’s like to live with a child who has episodes of explosive rage, and asks for help for all parents in similar situations. These families need real on-going support and reliable resources if we are to avert these tragedies in the future.   Schools would be a great place to add resources.

Listen to a radio interview with a law enforcement officer, a psychiatrist and a director of psychiatric emergency services.

And lastly, an article by Paul Steinberg who argues that we are not adequately assessing or treating individuals with clear signs of psychosis.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Less Guns, Not More.

The NRA’s response to put armed guards in our schools instead of considering reasonable limits on guns is truly astounding.   The lack of reasonableness in the face of known increases in mass shootings would seem to me, to indicate a determined indifference to public safety.    It’s upsetting to see the statistics of how the US compares to other countries in terms of individuals killed by guns.  Over a one year period The Brady Campaign cites these numbers: 

Finland 17
Australia  35
England and Wales  39
Spain  60
Germany  194
Canada  200
US  9,484

Consider what police chiefs across the country are asserting about how assault weapons make their job more dangerous.     
The tragedy at Sandy Hook should be a wake up call for all of us to fight for reasonable gun control.  Take a look at the Mayor’s “ DemandA Plan”  website and video.