Help Children Cope with Emotions about the News of School Shooting

People of all ages have been affected by the news and social media information about a recent shooting at an Iowa school. Children, especially, could experience a wide range of emotions, including fearfulness, shock, anger, grief and anxiety in response to this news, according to David Brown, behavioral health state specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

They may experience trouble sleeping, difficulty with concentrating on school work or home responsibilities, changes in appetite and changes in mood. This is normal and should begin to disappear in four to six weeks, Brown explained.

“Despite the media prominence and the stress these events may produce, mass shootings are statistically rare events, though we may not feel that way. However, we still need to be better prepared to understand children’s reactions and how to help them cope,” Brown said.

The American Psychological Association offers the following advice.

  • Listen to them. Take the time to actively listen to what your child or teen has to say. Many times, all children or teens want is someone to listen to them. In many cases, that is the best help you can offer.
  • Affirm and support their need for help. If a child or teen tells you they are feeling afraid or upset, for example, tell them you are proud of them for sharing their feelings. Let them know you appreciate the courage it took for them to talk with you and for trusting you to help them.
  • Be genuine. Try to avoid speaking from a script. Teens can tell when you’re not being genuine. When you are open, authentic and relaxed, they can be open, authentic and relaxed as well.
  • Take “news breaks.” Your children may want to keep informed by gathering information about the event from the internet, television or newspapers. It is important to limit the amount of time spent watching the news or staying connected online because constant exposure may heighten their anxiety and fears.
  • Check in often. Be sure to check in regularly with your children and teens as you monitor their coping. Provide extra time, attention and patience.

“If adverse reactions continue or at any point interfere with your children’s or teens’ abilities to function at home or at school, or if you are worried, you can find local mental health professionals by going to www.iowamhdsregions.org/,” Brown said.

Consider calling the Iowa Concern Hotline. This resource from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offers confidential assistance and referral for stress, legal questions and financial concerns. Iowa Concern can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-447-1985.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network offers parents guidance on helping their children after a shooting. A fact sheet (available in English and Spanish) describes common reactions children may have, how parents can help them and self-care tips after an event.

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