In light of the latest national tragedy, I’m going to break some rules.
Rule 1: Professional counselors are not prescriptive; we do not tell our clients what to do. Our role is to help empower our clients to help themselves.
Not this week.
Rule 2: Blogs, especially mine, are lighthearted and apolitical. It makes digesting clinical information easier. It is necessary to stay neutral so taking charge of your own mental health is manageable for everyone by not offending anyone.
Not this week.
Rule 3: There is no right or wrong in a therapeutic setting. Morality is individualized and learned from the unique perspective of our lives’ stories.
Not this week.
Managing the Tragedy to Prevent Trauma
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is not limited to soldiers. It is not limited to innocent people victimized by hatred. It is not limited to abused women and children. Although not a specific disorder, vicarious, or secondary, traumatic stress effects anyone who internalizes a horrifying event. First responders, counselors, clergy, and others associated with a helping profession are at the highest risk for vicarious PTSD based on the constant exposure to victims of tragedy. Sometimes, even well-intentioned parents can increase their children’s likelihood to exhibit serious mental health trauma.
According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, some symptoms and conditions associated with vicarious or secondary traumatic stress include:
Here are some things “To Do” and “To Don’t” when processing the latest attack.
Don’t explain the event to your children. Not even in Seuss-speak. Not even in generic terms. (“A bad man hurt a lot of people for being different.”) Children gracefully lack the capacity to understand the concepts of “bad man,” “hatred,” or “terror.” These are moral grey terms that children don’t have the developmental maturation to understand. David Elkind, a gifted psychologist, beautifully illustrates this concept in his books.
Do teach them about other cultures. There are dozens of Cinderella-type fairy tales from different cultures. Reading these to your children helps erase the lines between “us” and “them” in order to educate a generation of “we”.
Don’t allow your children to listen or watch any news coverage. Keep them away from adult conversations, too. Children have no concept of time. There is a risk that children will believe the violence is always happening because they cannot comprehend why it is still being discussed (while wearing serious adult faces) by everyone around them.
Do allow your children to participate in the healing process using art. Drawings, paintings, and Play-Doh are great donations to abuse shelters and children’s hospitals. Let your kids play and create like children. Then, present your child’s love-filled projects to peers to brighten the lives of others and create one for themselves.
Don’t mistake vigilance for preparedness. Fire drills and tornado drills are legal mandates for schools to practice disaster scenarios; they are normal for children. Creating disaster kits, no matter how much fun they may be to compile and decorate, is not normal play time at home. Spending your time guessing what awful event from the past to prepare for in the future will guarantee a loss of enjoyment in the present.
Do slow down to notice the details of your daily life. Just like one man’s small step on the moon that symbolized a larger step for mankind, the little miracles of daily life will create the armor of optimism needed to power through the major catastrophes.
Spark Note Summary
It is ironic that the same ignorance that fuels violent hatred protects our children’s innocence. We cannot sacrifice the latter to fight the former. Our energy must be concentrated on taking actions that protect the optimism of youthful innocence. Sports venues, schools, and businesses participate in “a moment of silence” in the wake of a tragedy. We respect the loss of life with a moment of silence. We honor the life that is lost with a minute of action. #minuteofaction