What To Do When The Tears Won’t Stop:
5 Things To Help Your Family Cope With Mass Shootings
Yesterday an 18 year old young man shot and killed 19 students and 2 teachers in an elementary school in Texas…
Seeing the letters form that sentence on my computer screen as I am typing them on my keyboard feels unbelievable yet, it is what happened… and it is the tragic reality of the world we live in…
I don’t know about you, but my tears won’t stop… They just won’t… The grief over the terror the children, teachers and staff at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde experienced on May 24, 2022, feels too much to bare… Yet bare it we must!
My heart is utterly shattered and broken for the grief and loss the families are going through…
There are no words that will console a parent who has lost a child, or for a family who has lost a mother…
Yet, there is something you can do to help yourself and your family cope with such tragedies, grieve the lives lost and ultimately heal when Grace determines the right timing.
Here are 5 tips that I believe will support you in this process, helps you remain grounded, and still be connected to life and love despite the horrible tragedies happening in our communities.
LET THE TEARS FALL!
The first step is to allow yourself to feel the feelings. Literally, do let the tears fall. Let them fall as long as they need to. We cannot even begin to heal if we suppress our emotions or numb it all out.
It is okay for you to show your sadness, grief and cry in front of your child as long as you still feel like you are internally in control.
If you feel like you aren’t, please reach out for support. Call a friend or relative, or get in touch with a therapist. Don’t try to bear this alone! We are in this together and you get to reach out for support!
Your child seeing you shed some tears and talking about how sad you are, allows them to also open up to their own healing process. Lots of hugs, kisses and cuddles will also help!
TAKE EMPOWERED ACTION!
One common response to a tragedy such as this shooting is to feel utterly powerless.
Our sense of safety is suddenly jeopardized, and we may feel hopeless about how to keep ourselves and our families safe.
Please know you are not powerless and there’s always something you can do to feel more empowered!
Healing can begin when we take some kind of action that will contribute to the healing of others.
We offer healing and get healed ourselves in the process.
In your family, this may look like writing cards or letters of sympathy for the families impacted by this tragedy, thank you notes to the police officers and first responders, or creating a moment of prayer and silence, or finding some other way to support them.
It doesn’t matter how big or small the action is as long as you do take action and involve your child in age appropriate ways.
FEEL YOUR FEAR, BUT DON’T STAY THERE!
Our mind that is conditioned to be on the lookout for danger and protect our families, will want to start being afraid ALL THE TIME.
The fearful mind will want to go to thoughts like “what if it was my child… my family… my community…”
This is a very dark place to be which ends up creating a stress response in your body AS IF it would be happening to you.
Wherever our mind goes, our body follows…
Now instead of being present to what is, you live as if you have lost your family already and miss the precious moments of joy, love and connection that you have right in front of you.
When our bodies go into a stress response, it has a great impact on our overall health as the body is working hard to keep the survival mode going so it shuts down your digestion and the immune system. It also clouds our thinking and judgment. We can no longer think clearly, nor do we have access to all our creativity, resources and healing powers.
While it is important to feel the fear, and notice how it feels in your body, you also get to help yourself come out of it so you don’t let it paralyze you.
While it is important to have empathy and express compassion, you get to draw a boundary in your mind, and not allow it to think “what if it was me..” This is where compassion can become scary and exhausting.
To support yourself in staying present you can literally ask yourself “What am I doing now?”
I am sitting… I am walking… I am breathing… I am watching my child who is happy and safe… I feel warm… I hear the birds singing…
Take a deep breath and allow the present moment to soak into your system, and realize you are ok, you are safe… In this very moment… in this breath…
HATE DOES NOT HEAL!
When one human being commits unspeakable atrocities towards other human beings, especially innocent children, it is normal to feel anger, rage, hate, despise, and disgust.
Hate however does not heal…
Hate only ends up eating you up inside resulting in your life force being poisoned by anger and bitterness.
Hate robs your inner peace and your ability to allow the natural healing process to occur…
I am not suggesting for you to suppress your emotions, but to feel them, observe them, be curious about them and then let them go….
When they come back you feel them, observe them, be curious about them and then let them go AGAIN… and AGAIN… and AGAIN…
This is how you slowly allow the hate to leave your system so you can come to a place of forgiveness and inner peace….
SHIELD YOUR CHILD FROM NEWS - LET YOUR CHILD LEAD THE TALK!
One thing you absolutely should do is to TURN OFF THE TV AND STOP THE NEWS FROM RUNNING IN THE BACKGROUND!
It is good practice to shield the children from being exposed to the non-stop news coverage about these events.
If your child has not heard anything about the shooting, there is no need to bring it up as children 8 and younger have very hard time processing events like this.
No matter how hard you try to protect them though, it is likely they will hear and know something about it, which is why it is important to check with them to see if they have heard any “bad news”, especially if they are alluding that they have or show sudden signs of fear and anxiety.
You can first get permission from your child to talk about it, and then ask what they have heard about the news.
Your demeanor should be grounded, calm, attentive and neutral at this point.
You can also ask your older child about how they are feeling about what happened and what their worries are around it.
You can encourage your younger child to draw their feelings and worries.
This allows you to correct any misinformation, and provide reassurance for their specific fears and worries as well as to normalize their reactions.
Younger children should get simple answers without detail. Follow the lead of your child, and respond to their specific questions and concerns versus over-talking and over-sharing.
With older school age children and teenagers you can have more in-depth conversations about the event and the surrounding factors.
It is unnecessary to elicit fear in children by spreading hate about the gunman by calling him “bad”, “evil”, “crazy” or “mad.” This just spikes up kids’ imagination and makes them more afraid.
It is important to assure your child that they are safe and that it is safe for them to go to school.
It is typical for children to have increased separation anxiety after tragedies like this so be patient and offer lots of emotional support and safety.
While we do not always have control over the external events of this world, we can manage our own responses and reactions to the world around us.
Surely, trauma and tragedy will throw us off into grief, despair and fear however staying in these negative emotional states will not help you or your family get through it.
This is why my invitation for you is to engage in active and intentional healing of these negative emotional states which is the best antidote to terror, and will help you better cope with this world of ours that unfortunately includes different kinds of violence and attacks to the very humanity itself.
Compassion, forgiveness, patience, loving-kindness and gratitude are emotional states that promote the overall wellbeing of your body, mind and soul.
According to Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, they can “undo” the harm done by negative emotional states and stress.
Whatever is done to us can also be “undone” by our own intention and capacity to heal, and forgive so that a state of love can be restored as well as faith in humanity.