TRENTON, N.J.— Unthinkable. Senseless. Horrific. Terrifying. Unbelievable. Devastating. We heard these words all too often this past weekend. Over the airwaves, streaming from computers and social media, and in general conversation, these are the words that invaded our worlds as we mourn for the loss of life that has occurred in Newtown, Connecticut.
We continue to grieve with this community. Our tears flowed along with President Obama’s as we try to make sense out of a senseless act. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost loved ones. The question seems unanswerable -- how can such a horrible thing occur? There may be no answers. But it is a normal reaction to experience sadness, grief and fear in the wake of this tragedy. We use our friends and families to discuss the what-ifs and the whys, and if needed, we should seek assistance from trauma professionals to help work through the uncertainty of the feelings we are experiencing. We can also use this as an opportunity to refocus our efforts on the safety and security of our schools, our children and our neighbors.
The dramatic tearing away of the innocence of childhood is what has caused us to have such a gut-wrenching reaction. What can we do to talk to our children about what has occurred? It is suggested that we respond with information appropriate to a child’s age and developmental stage, reassuring them of those precautions that are taken every day to keep them safe. The National Alliance on Mental Illness supports the recommendations of the American Psychiatric Association:
- Create an open and supportive environment where children know they can ask questions.
- Give honest answers and information.
- Use words and concepts they can understand.
- Help children to find ways to express themselves and to know that people are there to help.
- Remember that children learn by watching parents and teachers react and listening to their conversations.
- Avoid television programming with frightening repetitious images.
- Monitor for physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches or other pains.
- Have thoughtful conversation.
Additional resources are also available from the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress (CSTS), the University of Maryland Center for School Mental Health (CSMH) and the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Perhaps we all need to rethink how we deal with such a grievous act. It is time for us perhaps to stop talking and start listening. Allow our children and others to share their feelings and to share what they know or perhaps do not understand. Perhaps we can reframe our reaction to this event by now using words that help guide us in the conversations we are having with others. Have thoughtful, sensible, reassuring and consoling conversations. Be together doing what makes us happy and joyful. Be thankful for what we have and be prepared to soothe and comfort when we become unsure. Talk about those who came to help; praise the efforts of first responders, and take solace in the prayers of one’s faith.
Continue to grieve with those in Newtown, Connecticut. As we do so, our hearts will also begin to heal.
If you are feeling particularly affected by this tragedy and would like to speak to someone about it, please feel free to reach out to our professionals in Mercer County Human Services, Michele Madiou or Ann Dorocki, at (609) 989-6897.