Our deepest sympathies go out to the family members who were impacted 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… or have injured family members. 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:
- Parents, teachers, counselors and other caretakers can talk to the children about what happened in simple and reassuring ways.
- We can explain the traumatic incident to children in simple, non-graphic facts. Kids know what happened. Keeping it a ‘secret’ or making up a story about it may only add confusion and mistrust.
- Kids may fear talking about it because it is a “secret or forbidden topic.” To create healthy dialogues, we can invite children to ask adults any questions they might have about what happened or about themselves and their loved ones.
- Children often worry, “will it happen to me? Can it happen at our school or in our neighborhood?” We can reassure and comfort children by telling them that this scary event is not an everyday occurrence, and that children are safe.
- We can use simple words and simple sentences that avoid hate, racism, and fear. Young children grasp issues better when it is explained in emotionally neutral, brief, and clear ways.
- We can tell children that this is a very sad event that should never have happened.
- We can reinforce and tell children that the adults are working hard to keep all children safe – at home, at school, on the playground, and in the community.
- We can turn our televisions off while children are in the room, and make sure adult conversations take place with only adults in the room.
- We can encourage the kids to draw pictures, write a letter, or even give a toy to the families affected. Giving back is very healing, even for children.
- We can help children mourn and grieve, and process their thoughts and feelings via books on loss, puppets, drawings, and stories.
- My new book, Where Did My Friend Go? Helping Children Cope With A Traumatic Death can serve as an excellent first step in the journey of healing. Where Did My Friend Go? is a therapeutic coping children’s picture book to be read by an adult to a young child (3-8 years), who has lost someone to a sudden or traumatic incident.
- We can write letters, draw pictures, and send toys to children who have survived a traumatic incident. Giving back to others can be very healing for kids.
Children who may have had the misfortune to be affected by a mass shooting or 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.
- You can help out by purchasing Where Did My Friend Go? and donate it directly to the Las Vegas schools, community clinics, and libraries, or to a grieving family with young kids through Aspiring Families or Amazon.
It is critical to remember that it is not just the children in Las Vegas who have been affected by gun violence and trauma. An important study published in Pediatrics indicated that over 17.5 million or 1 in 4 school-aged children in the United States have been exposed to weapon violence in their lifetime, as either witnesses or victims. The results also suggest that 1 in 33 children (more than 2 million) have been directly assaulted with lethal weapons, including guns and knives.
The Brady Campaign also reports staggering statistics of a daily average of 40 children and teens being shot and surviving, and the incidence of over 160 school shootings since the Sandy Hook mass shooting in 2012.
- You can be a part of the solution by donating to the Indiegogo Generosity Community project to distribute free copies of Where Did My Friend Go? to clinics, schools, shelters, Head Starts, and ERs across the U.S.
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 related to traumatic events in young children, can use Where Did My Friend Go? as a first step assessment and intervention tool.
Given the staggering statistics, professionals on the front lines working with affected 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.
We need to step in now to break the intergenerational cycle of violence and the emerging mental health crisis related to trauma and weapon violence. If you are local, we welcome you to our San Diego support groups and if you are located elsewhere, we encourage you to seek out groups in your area who can assist.
You can be a part of the solution by donating to the Indiegogo Generosity Community project, to distribute free copies of Where Did My Friend Go? to schools, ERs, clinics, Head Starts, libraries, and shelters across the U.S. You can also go directly to Amazon, and donate Where Did My Friend Go? to the family or institution of your choice.
Kids Matter: It takes a village to help kids thrive.