Resources for Families and Children Facing Tragic Events
Racial Stress – Racism – Hate Crimes
Helpful Resources to Address the Mass Shooting in Uvalde, Texas
Many thanks to Michelle Zabel, MSS, Assistant Dean, and Director, The Institute for Innovation and Implementation, for compiling this list of resources in response to the horrific mass shooting in Texas earlier this week.
Helping Young People Cope With Mental Health Challenges
Vox Media’s NowThis is linking arms with Ken Burns and PBS to share an upcoming documentary titled “Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness.” Scenes from the forthcoming film will be shared across NowThis social platforms throughout Mental Health Awareness Month in May. NowThis will host a live TikTok conversation about the topic, as well. The goal, Burns said, is “to get this material out to young people around the country.” The film itself will debut at the end of June on PBS.
Uplift by Youth Era: Teaching Youth Peer Support Skills
More than 500 youth signed up for the most recent Uplift event! Studied by the University of Oxford and co-designed with young adults, Uplift by Youth Era is the future of peer support. Empower a young person in your life to be who they need, and apply to join the next Uplift training in June!
Randolph “Randy” Muck September 14, 1955 to April 21, 2021 in Memoriam
On the first anniversary of his death, several of us who knew and worked with Randy write this tribute to remember and honor his impact on so many people. Randy provided much-needed leadership from within the federal government to develop and disseminate evidence-based substance use treatments designed for adolescents and their families. He was successful because he had a rare ability to connect with all the groups important to improving adolescent treatment: provider organizations, schools, juvenile justice, counselors, federal agency decision-makers, researchers, private foundations, and most importantly—adolescents and their families. He saw how these groups could align their different interests and collaborate. This, in turn, helped youth, families, and systems of care in ways that continue to have an impact.
HHS Awards Nearly $25 Million to Expand Access to School-Based Health Services
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), recently announced nearly $25 million will be made available to improve and strengthen access to school-based health services in communities across the country. Awards will support local partnerships between schools and health centers to provide children and youth with the comprehensive physical and mental health care they need.
Investing in Prevention Makes Good Financial Sense
Primary prevention—including screening and intervention before negative health outcomes occur—is relatively inexpensive. The higher-risk behaviors it is designed to reduce are so costly to the healthcare system that it is staggeringly wasteful not to make sure that screening and treatment referrals are readily implemented and faithfully reimbursed by insurers and that interventions are convenient for parents and their children.
PAX Good Behavior Game
Speaking of prevention…
The PAX Good Behavior Game is an evidence-based universal preventive intervention applied by teachers in the classroom. This evidence-based practice consists of research-based strategies with origins in behavioral science, neuroscience, and cultural wisdom that operate together to improve children’s self-regulation. Teachers implement these strategies as part of their daily routines in carrying out tasks such as getting students’ attention, selecting students for tasks, transitioning from one task to the next, working as part of a team, limiting problematic behavior, and reinforcing pro-social behavior.
HHS Launches New Maternal Mental Health Hotline
The Maternal Mental Health Hotline is a new, confidential, toll-free hotline for expecting and new moms experiencing mental health challenges. Those who contact the hotline can receive a range of support, including brief interventions from trained culturally and trauma-informed counselors and referrals to both community-based and telehealth providers as needed. Callers also will receive evidence-based information and referrals to support groups and other community resources.
Six Things You Need To Know About Music and Health
A growing body of research suggests that listening to or performing music affects the brain in ways that may help promote health and manage disease symptoms. More justification for the plethora of music videos posted in Friday Update!
Know Your Rights: Parity for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Benefits
This brochure gives an overview of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. It lists some common limits placed on mental health and substance use disorder benefits and services.
Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech
Aaahhhh!!! Less than 20 days!!! Well? Have you registered for the 2022 Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech summit on June 8-9th yet? Can’t make it? Wondering if you can access all of the sessions with our hundreds of speakers after June 8-9th? YES, but ONLY if you register in advance. So, you should probably get on that.
Building a More Equitable Juvenile Justice System for Everyone
Racial inequities regarding the policing of children, and the subsequent disparities in their treatment within the juvenile justice system, have been problems in this country for far too long. It is encouraging that many states and counties are not only recognizing these issues but are taking action. The CSG Justice Center is committed to providing research-driven, data-informed solutions to our partners to continue building safer and stronger communities for everyone, especially our youth.
Disruptions to School and Home Life Among High School Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic — Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey, United States, January–June 2021
Young people have experienced disruptions to school and home life since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. From January to June 2021, CDC conducted the Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey (ABES), an online survey of a probability-based, nationally representative sample of U.S. public- and private-school students in grades 9–12. ABES data were used to estimate the prevalence of disruptions and adverse experiences during the pandemic, including parental and personal job loss, homelessness, hunger, emotional or physical abuse by a parent or other adult at home, receipt of telemedicine, and difficulty completing schoolwork. Prevalence estimates are presented for all students by sex, race and ethnicity, grade, sexual identity, and difficulty completing schoolwork.
CDC Survey Finds the Pandemic Had a Big Impact on Teens’ Mental Health
According to a survey published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than four in 10 teens report feeling “persistently sad or hopeless” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Girls were twice as likely to experience mental health troubles compared to boys. And LGBTQ students were hit the hardest. The CDC’s findings were gathered from online surveys from a sample of 7,700 US students during the first six months of 2021.
New Initiative to Define Policy Recommendations for Embedding Equity into 988
The Kennedy-Satcher Center for Mental Health Equity & Beacon Health Options are joining forces to create and develop an equitable crisis response for the future of behavioral health service delivery ahead of the July 2022 launch of 988.
State Policymakers Can Support Equitable School-based Telemental Health Services
This brief presents five ways state policymakers can support equitable school-based telemental health services, with recommendations based on relevant policy context, existing research, and—in some cases—feedback from interviews with five TMH providers who testified to on-the-ground experience with these interventions.
- SAMHSA Disaster/Distress Hotline: 1-800-985-5990
- SAMHSA Incidents of Mass Violence
- SAMHSA: Tips for Talking with and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event
- CDC Infographic: 6 Guiding Principles to a Trauma-Informed Approach
- CDC Helping Children Cope with Emergencies
- NCSMH Supporting Students, Staff, Families & Communities Impacted by Violence
- NIMH Helping Children & Adolescents Cope with Traumatic Events
- Talking to Children About Terrorist Attacks & School & Community Shootings in the News
- CDC Caring for Children in a Disaster: Tools & Resources
- NCTSN School Shooting Resources
- Sesame Street in Communities: Community & Gun Violence
- AAP Talking to Children About Tragedies & Other News Events
- AAP Talking with Children About Disasters
- CDC Helping Children Cope During & After a Disaster
Helping Children with Tragic Events in the News
In times of community or world-wide crisis, it’s easy to assume that young children don’t know what’s going on. But one thing’s for sure — children are very sensitive to how their parents feel. They’re keenly aware of the expressions on their parents’ faces and the tone of their voices. Children can sense when their parents are really worried, whether they’re watching the news or talking about it with others. No matter what children know about a “crisis,” it’s especially scary for children to realize that their parents are scared.
Some Scary, Confusing Images
The way that news is presented on television can be quite confusing for a young child. The same video segment may be shown over and over again through the day, as if each showing was a different event. Someone who has died turns up alive and then dies again and again. Children often become very anxious since they don’t understand much about videotape replays, closeups, and camera angles. Any televised danger seems close to home to them because the tragic scenes are taking place on the TV set in their own living room. Children can’t tell the difference between what’s close and what’s far away, what’s real and what’s pretend, or what’s new and what’s re-run.
The younger the children are, the more likely they are to be interested in scenes of close-up faces, particularly if the people are expressing some strong feelings. When there’s tragic news, the images on TV are most often much too graphic and disturbing for young children.
“Who will take care of me?”
In times of crisis, children want to know, “Who will take care of me?” They’re dependent on adults for their survival and security. They’re naturally self-centered. They need to hear very clearly that their parents are doing all they can to take care of them and to keep them safe. They also need to hear that people in the government and other grown-ups they don’t even know are working hard to keep them safe, too.
Helping Children Feel More Secure
Play is one of the important ways young children have of dealing with their concerns. Of course, playing about violent news can be scary and sometimes unsafe, so adults need to be nearby to help redirect that kind of play into nurturing themes, such as a hospital for the wounded or a pretend meal for emergency workers.
When children are scared and anxious, they might become more dependent, clingy, and afraid to go to bed at night. Whining, aggressive behavior, or toilet “accidents” may be their way of asking for more comfort from the important adults in their lives. Little by little, as the adults around them become more confident, hopeful and secure, our children probably will, too.
Turn Off the TV
When there’s something tragic in the news, many parents get concerned about what and how to tell their children. It’s even harder than usual if we’re struggling with our own powerful feelings about what has happened. Adults are sometimes surprised that their own reactions to a televised crisis are so strong, but great loss and devastation in the news often reawaken our own earlier losses and fears – even some we think we might have “forgotten”
It’s easy to allow ourselves to get drawn into watching televised news of a crisis for hours and hours; however, exposing ourselves to so many tragedies can make us feel hopeless, insecure, and even depressed. We help our children and ourselves if we’re able to limit our own television viewing. Our children need us to spend time with them – away from the frightening images on the screen.
Talking and Listening
Even if we wanted to, it would be impossible to give our children all the reasons for such things as war, terrorists, abuse, murders, major fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes. If they ask questions, our best answer may be to ask them, “What do you think happened?” If the answer is “I don’t know,” then the simplest reply might be something like, “I’m sad about the news, and I’m worried. But I love you, and I’m here to care for you.”
If we don’t let children know it’s okay to feel sad and scared, they may think something is wrong with them when they do feel that way. They certainly don’t need to hear all the details of what’s making us sad or scared, but if we can help them accept their own feelings as natural and normal, their feelings will be much more manageable for them.
Angry feelings are part of being human, especially when we feel powerless. One of the most important messages we can give our children is, “It’s okay to be angry, but it’s not okay to hurt ourselves or others.” Besides giving children the right to their anger, we can help them find constructive things to do with their feelings. This way, we’ll be giving them useful tools that will serve them all their life, and help them to become the worlds’ future peacemakers — the world’s future “helpers.”
- Do your best to keep the television off, or at least limit how much your child sees of any news event.
- Try to keep yourself calm. Your presence can help your child feel more secure.
- Give your child extra comfort and physical affection, like hugs or snuggling up together with a favorite book. Physical comfort goes a long way towards providing inner security. That closeness can nourish you, too.
- Try to keep regular routines as normal as possible. Children and adults count on their familiar pattern of everyday life.
- Plan something that you and your child enjoy doing together, like taking a walk, going on a picnic, having some quiet time, or doing something silly. It can help to know there are simple things in life that can help us feel better, in good times and in bad.
- Even if children don’t mention what they’ve seen or heard in the news, it can help to ask what they think has happened. If parents don’t bring up the subject, children can be left with their misinterpretations. You may be really surprised at how much your child has heard from others.
- Focus attention on the helpers, like the police, firemen, doctors, nurses, paramedics, and volunteers. It’s reassuring to know there are many caring people who are doing all they can to help others in this world.
- Let your child know if you’re making a donation, going to a town meeting, writing a letter or e-mail of support, or taking some other action. It can help children to know that adults take many different active roles and that we don’t give in to helplessness in times of worldwide crisis.
What do we tell our children?
How do we reassure them of their own safety?
At The Dougy Center in Portland, Oregon, we’ve provided grief support groups for children, teens, young adults and their parents or adult caregivers since 1982.
Based on our experience, here are some things for adults to keep in mind as you struggle with how to talk with children following tragic events, such as natural disasters, plane crashes, or school shootings.
1. Don’t project your fears onto your children. They take their cues from the adults around them.
You can’t hear the news about children being murdered or communities devastated by natural disasters without thinking about how you’d feel if it happened to your family, friends, or hometown. The outpouring of care and empathy for the families who lost loved ones will be powerful, and…we all know it could have been our friends, our child, our family and community members who died or were injured.
Identifying with the senselessness and randomness makes us all feel more vulnerable. But we should remember that children don’t always see things the same way that adults do, and it won’t be helpful to them for us to fall apart. They need to see that we care, that we feel terrible about this tragedy, and that we will do everything we can to keep them safe. They will take their cues from our behavior.
It’s okay to show emotion. We can model for children that feeling sad, scared, and upset is normal after tragedies. But we don’t want to overwhelm them with our emotions, or put them in the position of having to ‘parent,’ or take care of, the adults around them. Make sure you also model taking care of yourself, by sharing with trusted and supportive adult friends, eating (and drinking) healthfully.
2. Try to limit their access to the recurring news and exposure to the tragedy over and over.
Over-exposure to the graphic and emotional news can be overwhelming for children and can cause unnecessary anxiety and fear. Some children who repeatedly watched the footage of planes crashing into the towers on 9/11 thought it was happening again and again. Some children (and some adults) may have difficulty getting graphic scenes and images out of their minds. Too much exposure can fuel their fear, so don’t let them sit and watch the news over and over. Better yet, set the example of not doing so yourself as well.
3. Understand that you can’t completely shield them from what happened.
It would be next to impossible to hide these events from children, as much as we wish we could. You might be able to shield your own child in your home, for example, by not turning on (or owning) a television, but you can’t protect your children from hearing about it from other kids. The fact is, they will hear about it, so although they don’t “need” to know about it, pretending we can shield them is magical thinking.
That said, you don’t need to give them more information than they can handle, or more than they’re asking for. A simple, “Did they talk about what happened in _____ today at school?” would be a good starter. They need to know that you’re not trying to hide the truth from them, that you’re open to talking about it, but that you’re also not forcing them to do so.
4. Model truth-telling and build trust with your children by letting them hear things, even hard things, from you directly.
Eight days after the 9/11 attacks, I was meeting in small groups with pre-school workers in New York City, talking about how to respond to the young children in their care about the events. A man asked to speak to me privately after one of the trainings, and asked for my advice around his 7-year-old daughter. For the last week, since September 12th, she had been having stomach aches and difficulty sleeping. He said it was not tied to the events of 9/11 because, “We don’t have a television.” As his story unfolded it was evident that he did not want to have to explain to his child why people would do such horrible things, a normal dilemma that we face as parents and adults. This child was experiencing physical reactions, as it turned out, not primarily because of her reaction to the events of 9/11, but because she was unable to share her fears and concerns and questions in her own home, faced with her parents’ denial.
Here are some principles to keep in mind as you talk with children:
1. There is no one typical reaction one can or should expect from children.
Their responses will vary all over the ‘emotional’ map, from seeming disinterest to nightmares, eating issues, and anxiety. How any specific child will respond will depend on their age, previous experience with death and loss, and their personality style. Fearful children will tend to worry; quiet children may keep their feelings to themselves; those who want to appear unfazed may exhibit a sense of bravado or lack of caring. Of course, children directly affected – those who had a family member die; those who witnessed the tragedy; those who had friends die – will tend to have longer-term reactions and needs. Watch for changes in behavior, or concerning trends. While it would be normal to have heightened anxiety and sleeplessness, any concerning behavior or troubling symptoms should be taken seriously, and if warranted, professional help sought.
2. Many children will have an increased sense of fear about their safety.
Understandably. So will many adults. After a shooting at an Oregon mall in December 2012, the news outlets were filled with people who said they’d never take their children there again. Others said they’d return as soon as it opened in order to support the stores and employees who had experienced the traumatic events, and whose livelihoods were going to suffer as a result of the several day closure. Some runners in the Boston Marathon vowed to return; others said they would never do so again.
While we can’t guarantee to our children that nothing bad will ever happen to them, we can provide assurance that these events are relatively rare, and that we will do everything we can to keep them safe. Children may have many questions about the events, particularly about natural disasters. Answer their questions with language that fits their developmental stage. It’s okay if you don’t know the answer to a question. If it’s a question that might have an answer, offer to look up more information. You can also ask children what they think the answer is as they often have thoughts and ideas they want to share with you. In the case of natural disasters, if your child is fearful of something like that happening in your community, talk with them about the safety plan that you have in place for your family and home. You can also look into what community safety measures are in place and whatever elements are relevant with your children. Many children will be reassured knowing that there are specific, tangible things they and your family can do if something occurs. Some examples include, picking a meeting place, keeping flashlights in every bedroom, talking about where you will keep emergency water and food.
3. Children want, need, and deserve the truth.
In over 30 years of providing grief support to thousands of children and teens at The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families, we have never heard a child say, “I’m glad I was lied to.” Many, however, struggle with anger and lack of trust toward parents or other adults who lied to them. When we don’t tell the truth, they learn that we cannot be trusted. As difficult as it can be at times, and as horrendous as the truth may be, children want, need, and deserve the truth. Being able to talk openly and honestly with your children about tragic events and other losses, creates a foundation of trust, enabling them to come to you in the future with their questions, fears, and concerns.
How race-related stress affects you and your relationship with your child
What effect does racism have on your health and well-being?
Not only does racism impact you as a parent, it can also impact how you interact with your children. Experiences of racism build on each other and can chip away at your emotional, physical and spiritual resources as a parent, contributing to race-related stress. Race-related stress can make it hard to have the space needed to take care of yourself as a parent, which reduces the emotional space you need to adequately take care of your children.
Physical Effects can include increased hypertension, illness and risky behaviors such as substance use.
Emotional effects can include depression, anxiety, anger, irritability and aggression.
Spiritual effects can include a decreased sense of purpose, lack of connection with the larger community, isolation from larger social groups and reduced involvement in communal activities that you enjoy.
Potential reactions to racial stress or trauma
Feelings of shame and lack of confidence due to feeling that a situation cannot be changed.
Lack of Trust
Feeling detached or a lack of trust for others due to experiencing multiple losses or letdowns. This can make it very difficult to seek out help and to identify potential safe sources of support.
Reminders of the event, such as particular people or situations, can also trigger strong emotional or physical responses (e.g., crying or rapid heartbeat).
Difficulty Controlling Emotions
Difficulty controlling emotional responses (going from “zero to one hundred”) can occur as the body helps you adapt to potentially unsafe situations, making you feel constantly on “alert.”
The body’s response to the experience of racism can make accessing resources to cope with the situation difficult. Race-related stress is unique in that it threatens psychological resources that are needed to cope and fulfill basic needs such as financial support, housing, access to jobs, etc.
When your body is in stress mode, it is geared up to help you and your child survive, which sometimes leads to impulsive decisions. If you live in a chronic state of stress related to racism, you can start to engage in survival coping. Survival coping can help you to deal with very hard or potentially life-threatening situations. However, if you continue to exist in this mode long-term, it can make it difficult to enjoy being in the moment with your child and can reduce your ability to feel safe and in control.
What impact can racial stress have on your parenting?
Experiencing race-related stress can also impact the quality of parenting relationships in the following ways:
When you are exposed to racism repeatedly, you often start doubting yourself and can feel like you are an imposter in dominant culture settings or in settings where you feel as though you do not belong. Your inner thoughts might sound something like: “Am I being judged?” “Am I worthy?” “I got lucky.” “I only got this because I am Black.”
Being overly alert (hypervigilance)
Experiencing racial stress can make you more aware of potential dangers and negative experiences that can occur. This, in turn, can make the experience of parenting even more stressful. When you interact with your children, you can sometimes be reminded of negative race-related experiences that you had when you were a child. This reminder can amp up emotional responses, or hyperarousal, making it hard for you to “keep your cool” and be open to flexible problem solving.
“Helicopter parenting” (monitoring in fear)
These experiences of racism and unwarranted blame or lack of acceptance can make you want to protect your children so much, that you don’t allow them to explore in the way that they need to. You may shelter them from failures, which everyone needs to experience in order to learn how to manage everyday life. You may tend to be overly cautious or suspicious. Examples can include not allowing your children to have sleepovers or go to the park, even with your supervision.
Difficulty regulating emotions
- When your past influences your emotional state, it can affect your emotional responses to both big and minor stressors with children, such as when they misbehave. This, in turn, can lead to being overprotective or overuse of physical discipline, as a means of survival.
- For children, having parents who can keep perspective (stay cool) when children are upset, or misbehaving is very important. Likewise, it is important to stay calm when disciplining a child, otherwise discipline may go overboard. Both of these things can be hard if you are having difficulty controlling your emotions.
- Avoiding situations that are related to racism can be a needed strategy to survive; such as instances that may involve violence or threat to yourself or your family. Sometimes you may avoid reminders of past experiences due to the pain or discomfort they cause.
- If you find yourself avoiding strong feelings or situations with your child that bring up painful memories, it may make it hard to show affection and support for your child. It may even make it difficult to know how to provide emotional support for your child during times of stress. For instance, if your child brings up their own experience of oppression or an event in their life reminds you of something from your own childhood.
- Racism can lead to distrust or mistrust of other communities. Internalized racism is when you begin to accept negative messages about your own abilities and inherent worth by the dominant group in society.
- When you use society’s norms to judge yourself, you can feel depressed, unworthy and just not good enough. You are taught in many ways to take these feelings and paint them onto another group.
- Intra and interracial violence, contention among disenfranchised communities or color, and the way the media conveys information about people of color, contribute to this.
- This kind of coping can make you more vulnerable to racism, because on some level you may believe in racial hierarchy and difference when you belittle other groups. And when you show your children that it is right to discriminate against certain other groups, you make them more vulnerable to discrimination that they face.
- Racism is overwhelming, as is the history of violence. You are sometimes taught that accepting this and minimizing racism is the only thing you can do. But when you ignore racism, and accept powerlessness, you encourage your kids to internalize racism. This can lead to increased levels of depression, anxiety and externalizing behaviors (e.g., engaging in risky behaviors, such as alcohol or substance use).
- When you believe that you should be able to handle and manage it all without a break or without asking for help, you are at increased risk for health problems and can miss important cues about your well-being and safety.
Experiencing chronically unfair and dangerous discriminatory practices due to race can lead to feelings of low worth. For parents, this can also lead to a questioning of your parenting choices and abilities.
Unbalanced Racial and Ethnic Socialization (RES)
Unbalanced messaging or communication about race and ethnicity occurs when you only promote messages of mistrust, preparation for bias, or only give racial pride messages to your children.
Strategies to deal with racial stress and practice self-care.
So, what can you do to mitigate racial stress?
As parents, it is important to develop positive identities and share your cultural identities with your children. Positive cultural identity and advocacy are protective factors against racism, which can help to reduce and prevent racial stress.
There are many other ways to cope with stress and everyone has different preferences. Reducing stress can also allow you to model healthy coping strategies for your child. Here are some suggestions you can try.
- Build or access a support network
- Incorporate traditions at home
- Get some exercise
- Deep breathing
- Limit your media intake
You are not the only person dealing with race-related stress and connecting with other people with similar experiences and feelings can help you to successfully navigate racism.
- Talk with family and trusted friends specifically about racialized events that have occurred and how to handle them
- Start or join a group with others who may have had similar experiences and similar interests, like a book club that reads books by Black authors, or spend time with other African American parents who have the same concerns you do about how your children are treated at the school.
- Seek out activities that you can do with your friends or family (e.g., exercising, cooking, watching a family show or movie together, etc.)
Much of the debate today is around gun control. Below are links to two bills currently pending in Congress.
HR 1446 Enhanced Background Check Act of 2021
HR 8 Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021