by Sheila A. M. Rauch, PhD, ABPP

With the deluge of information on this event, it is highly likely that your children, preteens, and teens have heard a lot about the event and may have even seen some of the video coverage of the shooting itself and the aftermath. The key message for parents to convey after exposure to any type of trauma or violence is to ensure that your child feels safe and loved.  

Give them an open invitation to talk with you about the incident. If your child has seen coverage of the event, make sure you talk with them about what they think about it and how they think it impacts their life and the world around them. Such discussion should fit the developmental level of the child using the child’s words and understanding as much as possible.  

Coping with loss is always difficult. When loss is unexpected and due to senseless violence, it can compound the impact on those who are left behind.  People generally want to have a sense of control over our world and the people we love.  When death due to violence occurs that sense of safety and comfort is ripped away and leaves the people left behind feeling vulnerable and angry along with the deep sadness that follows loss. In times like these it is particularly important to make sure we are supporting those around us who are impacted and providing them ways to vent in a safe environment. It is also important to look for ways to prevent such events in the future through examination of why this act was able to occur. We want survivors to recover and we want to prevent future incidents of violence.  

Make sure your child has a chance to feel the strong emotions that may come up in response this shooting and the sense that school and even the world is not safe.  Let them know that most people are upset by this type of event and feeling angry and scared and sad is normal when a shooting occurs.  

Normalize the reactions the child may be having. Provide direction that in this case, viewing video coverage of what happened may not be helpful and that they should talk with you if they see something disturbing online. 

Let them know that the feelings they may have will reduce over time but if they are not getting better with time there are good resources for people who can help with effective treatment available. 

As much as parents can provide a clear sense of safety for their children this will help to reduce the impact of the event.  Consider talking about what they think happened, how they feel about what happened, and what they think needs to happen now to prevent this from happening again.  Consider whether community action is needed to increase safety of the children in your community’s schools and whether you and your family would want to engage in making the changes that maybe needed.

About the Author

Sheila_Rauch_0.pngDr. Rauch joined ADAA in 2002. She has been providing PTSD and Anxiety Disorders treatment for over 20 years. She is currently Principal Investigator of two PTSD treatment outcome and mechanisms trials including a DOD funded, multi-site PTSD treatment trial comparing prolonged exposure and sertraline and a VA/DOD collaboratively funded trial examining biomarkers in active duty military service members completing psychotherapy.  She has served as a VHA Prolonged Exposure Therapy Roll Out Trainer since the start of the program.

Dr. Rauch's research focuses on translational treatment outcomes and modifications of proven treatments for use in alternate settings, such as primary care.  She has published scholarly articles and book chapters in the areas of anxiety disorders and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) focusing on neurobiology and factors involved in the development, maintenance, and treatment of anxiety disorders, psychosocial factors in medical settings, and the relation between physical health and anxiety. Dr. Rauch has been involved in the modification and adaptation of proven psychotherapeutic interventions for anxiety disorders for various populations and settings, including primary care.