By Jack Singer, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
While we all try to make sense out of latest horrendous school shooting that has befallen this country, our focus often ignores the plight of the other “victims”…the families of the victims, the friends of the victims, the children who survived this devastating event and other children and families around the world, who viewed this horror through the media.
We usually use the term, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for people fighting in wars, rape and crime victims, or those battling natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina or Sandy. PTSD can present itself in many forms.
These symptoms can be grouped into three categories:
1. Re-experiencing symptoms:
- Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart, sweating and panic
- Bad dreams
- Frightening thoughts.
Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing.
2. Avoidance symptoms:
- Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
- Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
- Having trouble remembering the dangerous event.
Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms.
3. Hyper-arousal symptoms:
- Being easily startled
- Feeling tense or “on edge”
- Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.
Hyper-arousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed, constantly worried about danger and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.
In the Sandy Hook disaster, we have families, whose lives took a sudden and dramatic change right before the celebration of Christmas, so for these people every Christmas from now on has the potential of pulling those families back to these horrific memories.
Once Sandy Hook Elementary re-opens, the PTSD could re-visit survivors upon entering the school, passing by the areas where shootings took place, etc.
Parents all over the world could now face children suffering with fear, who cannot express those fears. Parents need to be vigilant to signs or symptoms of PTSD and take action immediately.
What Do Parents Need to Do, Now?
Parents need to speak to their children now, rather than waiting for the child to discuss what happened. Gently help your children identify their feelings, rather than sitting them down and lecturing them. First, identify the feelings, let them know that crying and fear are normal reactions, reflect back what you hear them say (empathizing with them and validating those feelings and fears) be sensitive to them, and ask what questions they may have.
The bottom line is that children need to feel safe and secure. It’s ok to tell them that there are bad people in the world who do bad things, but there are millions and millions of children their age who never have bad things happen to them and their will most likely never experience anything like this.
Be prepared to have ongoing conversations with your children, because just because they are acting normally now, does not mean that they are not still processing what happened and fears can arise any time.
Young children who saw the horror on TV or heard about it may also worry about their own teachers and administrators not being able to protect them, because they couldn’t protect the victims at Sandy Hook. These are all issues that need to be addressed, rather than avoided.
Be sensitive to fear and insecurity coming out in children who live in disruptive homes, where the parents may be battling each other, for example. Such children may be feeling even more insecure now, with the fear of impending divorce, etc.
For parents of classmates and siblings of the victims, be aware of feelings of survivor guilt (“Why didn’t I die?” Or “I was fighting with my brother before he went to school and I said to myself, ‘I hate him, I wish I didn’t have a brother’). These young people need to be counseled about this tragedy certainly not being their fault and that having angry thoughts about a sibling never leads to a tragedy like this. Parents who provide a faith base to their children should consult with their religious mentors about a discussion about G-d’s plan, here. Families often find comfort and healing in their faith and discussions with those in their religious community.
Certainly, if parents feel overwhelmed or helpless in dealing with their youngsters, seek out professional help.
Let this unspeakable tragedy become a beacon to families around the world to bond closer to your children, assure them that they are safe and look at the world through their eyes before making decisions that can dramatically affect them.
About the Author:
Dr. Jack Singer is a professional speaker, trainer and psychologist. He has been speaking for and training Fortune 1000 companies, associations, CEO’s and elite athletes for 34 years. Among the association conventions which Dr. Jack has keynoted are those which serve financial planners.
Dr. Jack is a frequent guest on CNN, MSNBC, FOX SPORTS and countless radio talk shows across the U.S. and Canada. He is the author of “The Teacher’s Ultimate Stress Mastery Guide,” and several series of hypnotic audio programs, some specifically for athletes and some for anyone wanting to raise their self-confidence and esteem. To learn more about Dr. Singer’s speaking and consulting services, please visit DrJackSinger.com and FunSpeaker.com or call him in the U.S. at (800) 497-9880.