Paris. San Bernardino. Could it happen in Redondo Beach or in Los Angeles? The threat of terrorism closed Mira Costa High and Aurelia Pennekamp Elementary last week. Today, the entire Los Angeles Unified School District closed their doors after police identified credible threats.
When I heard the news, as a crisis intervention specialist, I knew it was important to have a conversation with my sons about why their school was closed; but as a mother, I also understood that it may be uncomfortable or difficult for them to communicate their feelings about such a complicated situation.
As parents, it can be difficult to even articulate our own emotions surrounding these crises – let alone lead the discussion with our children. But with the right tools, these critical conversations don’t have to be scary or intimidating.
Keep in mind these three steps in talking to children after a crisis:
Share your feelings, state the facts and create a plan.
How we react during a perceived or real crisis can either empower or inhibit our children. After you share your feelings it encourages youth to do the same.
Open the conversation by asking questions. What did you see today? What did you hear today at school? What was one of the scariest things you felt today? Ask them what it was like being at school (the mood, rumors etc.).
If the adolescent is communicative, asking open-ended questions will foster conversation. Keep in mind older kids will ask why, and it’s okay to say we don’t understand or know. If you have a younger or non-verbal child ask them to draw you a picture to explain their feelings. After the feelings are shared, state facts. This is an opportunity to reassure them, combat rumors and provide comfort. Lastly, create a plan but empower kids by allowing them to do this action step.
Talk about coping. Foster this by asking:
- Who else can you talk to about your feelings?
- Whose house could you get to if you couldn’t get home?
- Who could you trust if something were to happen?
- What resources are at school? Have you had drills or practices?
Wrap up the conversation with young people by identifying strengths and resources in the community. We can guarantee social media, peers and other influences shape perception. Even with limited knowledge about threats, keeping children engaged and informed empowers us all to feel healthier and less fearful.
At The Guidance Center, we help nearly 3,000 children and families each year through our comprehensive mental health treatment. We can provide expert insight on suicide prevention, trauma, crisis intervention, case management, community education/outreach, and intensive mental health treatment.
If you’d like to seek help for yourself or a loved one, head over to our locations page and call one of our clinics that is nearest to you.
Patricia Costales, LCSW