5 Ways Parents Can Support Their Children After the Mass Shooting in Allen
Mental health experts and doctors from Cook Children's are sharing advice for parents in the wake of the shooting at an outlet mall in Allen, Texas.
Three children were among the eight people killed in a mass shooting Saturday at the Allen Premium Outlets, according to news reports. This tragedy was close to home – it was a place that many people in North Texas frequent. The community of Allen is now added to the list of mass shootings with ripples of pain in its wake. How do parents, caregivers and children make sense of this?
Cook Children’s psychiatrists and psychologists are sharing some advice for parents.
How do I talk to my children?
- Ask them how they’re feeling and attempt to validate their feelings. Feelings of anxiety and sadness are normal. Reflect on what you hear and give them space to share. – Cook Children's family therapist Chris J. Gilbert, M.Ed, LPC, CCLS
- It’s OK if children ask questions that we don’t have an answer to. If you don’t have an answer, it’s OK to be honest and do what you can to help find an answer. You can follow up with “What makes you ask that?” – Kristen Pyrc, M.D., co-medical director of Psychiatry at Cook Children’s
- If children feel sad or uneasy, validate what they are saying. Allow them to vent and share their own frustrations and reflect that back. – Family therapist Chris J. Gilbert, M.Ed, LPC, CCLS
Should I bring it up if my children haven’t mentioned it?
- For young children, you can ask them how their day went and if they heard anything unsettling at school. – Dr. Pyrc
- For children 10 and older, parents should consider starting the conversation because they will likely hear about it from a classmate.
- It’s also OK if they are not interested or don’t show interest. – Family therapist Chris J. Gilbert, M.Ed, LPC, CCLS
How can I comfort my children?
It’s important to talk with your child about things that frighten them because it helps reduce and manage fear. It lets them know that their parents empathize and care about their feelings and thoughts. – Cook Children's Neuropsychologist Lisa Elliott, Ph.D.
The best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to connect with them, tell them you love them, and hold them a little tighter because we are grateful they were able to come home. – Kia Carter, M.D., medical director of Inpatient Psychiatry at Cook Children’s Medical Center
Some tangible items to help your child feel more comforted:
- Create a small photo frame keychain with a family picture. They can attach it to their backpack or keep in their bag.
- Create matching bracelets to remind them of the connection to you and your family. – Dr. Elliott
You and your children can also:
- Donate to a charity.
- Write a letter to the family of a victim.
- Use your faith and pray for the needs of others.
These actions allow for some sense of a healthy outlet. - Family therapist Chris Gilbert
What if children do not want to go to school after hearing the news?
Let your child have one mental health day and do a lot of pouring into them and making memories together. Talk with them about how to handle problems and let them know we can still find joy. Do not let it be more than one day or it will only exacerbate the fear. – Dr. Elliott
“Kid’s worries about gun violence are valid,” said Kristen Pyrc, M.D., co-medical director of Psychiatry at Cook Children’s. “I have the same anxiety when I leave my house or send my kids to school. When you can, it is important to limit kids’ exposure to the news or information that is beyond their comprehension level. I hate having to have this conversation with increasing frequency because as adults we have not taken steps to adequately protect our children.”
Look for signs of anxiety
Keep an eye out for an increase in physical complaints. If these persist for more than a few weeks, seek professional help. - Dr. Elliott
- Stomach aches
- Change in appetite
- Sleep disruptions
- Separation issues
- Panic symptoms
- Not wanting to participate in social activities
Parents, remember to take care of yourself
Model healthy coping skills as children take their cues from you. Children need to see that it’s OK to express emotion.
"It is vital for parents to take time to reflect on their own feelings before addressing their child’s fear centering around gun violence," Dr. Carter said. "We as parents have to remember to take care of ourselves first so that we can be the best parent for our children. We encourage parents to find effective ways for themselves to cope by practicing in self-care whether it be exercising, meditation, seeking support in their religious faith. It can also be helpful for parents to consider joining parent support/community groups that can also serve as a platform to process these fears with other parents likely experiencing the same feelings. As parents, we are always modeling healthy behaviors for our children and this is a good time where we can model healthy coping skills and self-care for our children."
Effective ways to cope include speaking with other parents at school, forming/joining a parent support group, leaning on family members for support, eating nutritious meals, exercising, meditating, praying and speaking with your child’s school counselor for advice on resources or books on supporting yourself and your family through a school-related tragedy.
It's important that parents also process their feelings with other adults, support/communicate with their child's school staff and open up about their feelings and concerns.
Ways to help and ways to find support:
National Parent Helpline run by Parents Anonymous to get emotional support from a trained advocate: 1-855-427-2736
Tragedies such as these highlight the importance of donating blood. Giving blood supports nearby hospitals and rebuilds their supply for patients. Click here to sign up to donate blood at your local Carter BloodCare. Cook Children's Medical Center-Prosper is hosting its first blood drive. The drive is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 12 on a Carter BloodCare bus. Register here.
Information from the National Association of School Psychologists about tips for administrators and how parents can talk to children about violence.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network shares information for parents, including how to restore a sense of safety after a shooting.
For a great resource on how to speak up, visit sandyhookpromise.org.
For more on this topic:
- Sandy Hook Promise
- Cook Children's Behavioral Health
- Cook Children's Psychology
- Individual and family therapy
- Parent Education and Support
- Diagnostic Testing
Raising Joy Podcast
You can also listen to the recent Raising Joy Podcast with Dr. Jillian Peterson, founder of The Violence Project, as she informs listeners about her research findings related to mass shooters and what parents can do to help prevent the next school shooting.
Aim for Safety program at Cook Children’s
Safe storage. Safe children. Safe play.
When we have firearms in our homes, we must take certain steps to protect our children from unintentional shootings. Cook Children's Aim for Safety® initiative is designed to help reduce the number of injuries we see every year among children through gun safety education. This is not about whether guns are right or wrong. It's about taking the necessary steps to protect our children.
Parents and caretakers should always ensure safe storage in your own home and the homes you visit. Store firearms unloaded and in locked locations, out of reach of children.
- Use trigger locks and gun boxes.
- Secure ammunition separately.
- Hide gun safe and trigger lock keys.
- Keep unlocked guns in your possession.
- Make sure all guns are equipped with effective, child-resistant gun locks.
If a visitor has a gun in a backpack, briefcase, handbag, or unlocked car, provide them with a locked place to keep it when in your home.