When bad things happen, sometimes those hit hardest are children. How can parents, carers or teachers help a child after a tragedy? Two Science Hill Independent officials say the simplest thing is to reassure the young ones that they are safe.
In light of the shootings that took place this weekend in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, the Commonwealth Journal reached out to school staff to ask how best to help a child deal with traumatic events.
Tim Leigh, Family Resource Center coordinator for Science Hill, said simply, "Above all, reassurance."
Science Hill counselor Barbara Estep agreed.
"The main message to them is that the people in charge are doing everything they can to keep you safe," she said.
That is a message that needs to be repeated, even if the child asks more than once. Estep said that younger children may ask the question repeatedly, not because they have to hear the answer again to remember it, but rather because they need to hear the same answer again.
"Be consistent. Reassure them consistently," she said.
Leigh added that a parent needs to keep an open line of communication with their child.
"If the child wants to talk about it, let them," he said. "Keep reassuring them of their safety, that they're loved and that people care about them."
If a child sees or hears about an event, they may ask if something bad could every happen to them. Estep said not to brush off the question by telling them "no," nor to bluntly say "yes," but to keep the information simple.
"I don't lie to them. I just don't give them all of the details. Just say 'We do everything we can to keep you very safe.'"
While it is important to listen to the child, Estep asked parents to limit their own adult conversations of the event while the child is present, and limit access to news broadcasts. Younger children may not understand all of the information that they are hearing, and when they hear about an event or see the video of it over and over, it just brings the confusing information back to mind repeatedly.
Estep said also that some children may be very good at verbalizing their anxiety, but some may not. Changes in physical or mental behavior, like having headaches, nightmares, loss of sleep, being irritable or arguing more, eating too much or not at all, being more clingy or refusing to go to school, might be the child's way of demonstrating their fear after a bad event.
Both Estep and Leigh said that one of the best ways of comforting a child is by having a plan in place before an event.
"Go over security," Leigh said. "That's why we do lockdown drills, and we take it very seriously."
In fact, Leigh said the staff at Science Hill went through a state-required active shooter training on Monday.
He said that staff at Science Hill - and all area school districts - are well equipped to help when something bad happens.
"If something happens in Pulaski County, every pastor and counselor is on stand by," he explained. The school will set up a sort of mental health triage, where students can come to their teachers to talk, and if needed they can be guided to a professional for further care.