In light of the tragic events of the Vegas shootings, I feel compelled to compile some suggestions to help families process and cope with such overwhelming loss and trauma.
As a family therapist and trauma-informed clinician in Washington DC, I have helped many families heal from trauma that has impacted them directly. For those who were affected directly by the shootings, I mourn with you and hope you are finding support in your friends and community.
Here are a few thoughts to hold in mind as you move forward in your own healing as well as some ideas for those of us who were not directly impacted by the shootings but feel grief and collective fear associated with such pain.
When tragedy hits, we all ask why and what—Why did he do it? Why at a country music festival? What happened exactly to allow for this massacre? We see it repeated in the news minute-by-minute, and while it is normal to ask questions and seek answers in the midst of trauma, it is not helpful to stay fixed on getting answers to often unexplainable events. In order to cope well, it’s important to pay more attention to the how— How can I understand this event? How can I seek solace with loved ones? How can I help others? How can I minimize my news/media intake?
As parents, we can feel the burden of explaining such events to our children. Try to keep your TV off the news or at least restrict viewing times to small increments and when the kids are away or occupied. Kids will likely hear about the event and ask questions. If so, give them basic, age-appropriate facts and reassurances. The younger a child is, the less you share.
For toddlers and preschoolers who ask: There’s a scary story on the news about people getting hurt. It’s far away from us, and we are safe here. Mommy’s just sad about it.
If they ask further about people getting shot: Sometimes people hurt others because they are sick in their bodies, minds or feelings. That’s why it is so important to take care of ourselves and be kind and care for others when they are sad or hurting. We are safe here and the police are helping to make sure Las Vegas is safe.
For school-aged children who ask: You know how guns are dangerous? Many people were hurt with guns at a music concert and people are sad about it. That’s why we don’t play with guns.
If they ask more questions about why people kill others or why people die: It is hard to understand why someone would hurt so many people. Even adults struggle to understand. Often, people who hurt others are hurt in their minds, their feelings or their insides. That is why we need ways to help all kinds of people who are hurting or sick. There are many doctors, nurses, and police who are helping the people in Las Vegas now to get better and be safe.
For middle schoolers and high schoolers who ask: There’s a man who was likely very sick in his mind who shot a lot people at a music concert. Investigators are trying to find out what happened to allow for such an awful act to occur.
If they express hopelessness or ask more probing questions–While this is tragic, it is not a reflection of everyone in the world. The news can make it seem like this kind of violence is rampant. It is horrific and we should stand up against it, but it is not something that is present among everyone, everywhere. It is important to remember that when you watch the news. If you ever see anything scary or suspicious, you can call the police or tell an adult who is in charge of safety. Trust your instincts to act if you feel scared.
In summary, as parents and as caring adults, we can feel weighed down by the sadness of such events. Try to honor the urge to do less–try to slow down and connect more with those whom love you and whom you love. Take note of lessons from others who have faced or are facing great loss. Here is one excellent example: Randy Pausch condenses his message in this YouTube excerpt in his version of The Last Lecture.