The tragedy unfolding today in our neighboring state of Connecticut is sucking the breath out of me. I don’t know anyone personally in Newtown, CT, but my eyes keep welling up with tears. My heart hurts. Badly.
The news of this school massacre is truly horrific. At this point, we know very little and do well not to speculate about what is not yet known. What is confirmed is that 20 young precious children and seven or more adults have been murdered by gunshot in an elementary school setting. What should be a sacrosanct place was violated in the most extreme of ways.
Our hearts ache for the parents, siblings, grandparents, extended families and neighbors in this community. The news of the massacre is filling up the television stations, internet news feeds and newspaper copy. It’s a headline we wish we would never see.
But it is our gruesome reality today and we must start to grapple with the tragedy.
Figuring out how to stop this kind of gun violence is part of our task. There’s others. But, for tonight, right now as the news unfolds, maybe it's best to focus on taking care of ourselves and our families emotionally.
Everyone who hears about this killing spree would do well to get some psychological first aid. It’s good to realize this emotional need, even if the closest we are to the massacre is hearing/reading/seeing a report from one of our electronic screens. Kids included.
What I mean is this: news like this hits us hard emotionally, even if we are safe physically. News like this makes us feel vulnerable and wonder about our own safety. I immediately thought about my children, spouse, and other family members. I immediately thought about all the youngsters still in school at the nursery, elementary, and high schools that I live near. News like this can traumatize us. News like this does traumatize us. We can’t just shrug it off.
Psychological first aid today might include:
- Giving those you love a long and intense hug today when you next see them. Wrap your arms around yourself, if you don’t have a loved one or close neighbor nearby, and give yourself a hug. Take a deep breath and count your blessings.
- Protecting yourself and your children, especially your children, from being over exposed to news about this tragedy. We know from research that children who just watch news about violence, especially violence against other children, can be upset emotionally in significant ways. They don’t have to be present at the actual event to become traumatized. You can keep your children from getting hurt in this way. This news has appropriately taken over the airways, but that doesn’t mean you have to let it create potential emotional harm to your children. Best, in my professional opinion is this–don’t let young children watch news that includes violent images or descriptions at all. Let them get whatever information they need of news like this from someone who knows them best and understands their needs best—you, their parent. Be cautious with older children as well to avoid overexposure. Provide a safe and secure place physically and emotionally as well for your youngsters. Keep your usual routine for the weekend in place; it gives a needed sense of security.
- Reach out to others. Find a way to connect with someone else. Doing so is reassuring. We need reassurance on a day like today. Reaching out to others (and being reached out to) during a tragedy can be powerful and healing. Many are still reeling from the tragedy and troubles of another crisis—Hurricane Sandy. The pile-up factor can make us even more vulnerable, making it all the more important to consider psychological first aid.
We will know more soon. Further psychological first aid may be needed for some of us. School counselors and other counselors can be helpful for debriefing and crisis work.
But for today, ground yourself, take good care emotionally of yourself and your children, and try to reach out and connect with others. I’m glad I have a potluck meal and event with other families planned for tonight. I’m sure there will be a lot more hugs than usual. And that’ll be a good thing.