The San Diego deputy director for Behavioral Health Services, Dr. Piedad Garcia issued guidance to local parents who are addressing distress felt by children who learn of violent incidents like the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
Parents are advised to be aware of their children’s responses and to prepare for an open conversation without providing too many details. Emphasize to children that the event has ended and reassure them that they are safe, Garcia said.
“Each child exhibits distress differently,” Garcia said. “It has to do with their age, their maturity, their individual experiences.”
According to Garcia, parents should limit children’s exposure to the tragedy because it can overstimulate them and create further anxiety. She said parents may answer questions simply and provide perspective, but to be aware of their own emotions.
Parents should monitor how their children are doing and acknowledge that their children’s feelings are OK. Their sleep routines and appetite may be disrupted. These are all normal reactions, Garcia said. Provide emotional support. It may take minutes, hours or even days for the incident to affect children. When it does, provide nurturance (hugs, empathy, kindness, calm support) and ask about their thoughts and feelings.
The following tips are provided by Mental health experts to identify behavioral signs that may show your child is reacting to the incident:
- Infants up to two years old may react to their parents’ anxiety or other responses. The infants may be irritable, they may cry more than usual and want to be cuddled.
- Preschool-aged children are not able to fully understand the tragedy, but they may know enough to feel helpless and overwhelmed. They may feel fear and insecurity about being separated from caregivers. They may try to re-enact the incident through play activities.
- Elementary school-age children have a better ability to understand the tragedy. They may become intensely preoccupied with the details of the event and want to discuss it. Other reactions may include sadness, generalized or specific fears about the event happening again, as well as feelings of guilt, overreaction or inaction. They may feel angry that the event was not prevented or have fantasies of rescuing others.
- Middle school and high school-age children could become involved in dangerous, risk-taking behaviors such as reckless driving or alcohol and drug use. Others may be fearful of leaving home. A teenager may have intense feelings but not want to discuss them. They may not want to attend school or participate in school-based activities. School performance may decline. Teens may become argumentative and/or withdrawn.
The County also operates the Access and Crisis Line seven days a week, 24 hours a day, where people can get help for issues such as depression, anxiety, anger or other mental health challenges. The number is 888-724-7240.