December 19, 2012
On Monday, Dec. 17, Drury hosted a memorial service for the victims of the Newtown, Conn. school shooting. Dr. Karen Scott from the Lost and Found Grief Center in Springfield offered these remarks on how to help children deal with the tragedy.
Remarks delivered by Dr. Karen S. Scott 12.17.12
The senseless tragedy of the loss of 26 lives affects all of us in so many ways, and the impact of that loss ripples out from the immediate families and friends to relatives who live all over the country. The ripples of loss extend to those of us who did not know the victims or their families personally, but are touched by the loss because of our humanity and the identification we feel with the pain of losing a precious child or loved one. We recoil at the display of the worst of what human beings are capable of doing. But the collective response of horror and disbelief, the outpouring of love and support for that community, and the courageous acts of heroism demonstrate the very best of the human response.
Dr. Karen Scott
Today we stand shoulder to shoulder and reach out heart to heart to commemorate the loss and find the appropriate way to respond. Unfortunately, acts of terror have become all too familiar, requiring that we give pause to reflect personally and as a society regarding the appropriate response to the traumatic impact of such an event.
Trauma is an injury to the physical or psychological well-being of an individual. It means someone has been hurt or upset to the degree that it severely affects the way they function, either mentally, emotionally, or physically
Traumatic events shatter our sense of safety and our assumptions about trust and control. They leave us feeling unprotected, defenseless, and overwhelmed. They bring feelings of terror and helplessness. If someone can walk into a first grade classroom and commit such acts of carnage, are we really safe anywhere? How can we prevent such senseless violence?
As adults, we are all asking ourselves these questions. Trauma changes our view of self, our view of the world, sometimes our spirituality. We struggle to find meaning in these events and in life. Imagine how much greater the struggle to understand is for our children who lack the cognitive ability to process the complexities.
The most severe traumas and repeated exposure to traumatic events increase the risk for full-blown PTSD. However, many of us are at-risk for Secondary traumatization. This used to affect caregivers, and mental health workers—those who repeatedly heard the stories of first-hand victims. Now, repeated media images and 24-hr. news coverage increase the risks for many of us to have secondary traumatization
So what should our response be? What helps lessen the impact of trauma?
First, we need to limit our exposure to the traumatic stories. We can be informed without inundating ourselves with the news coverage. We must take a break and focus on the good people and things in life. We need the reminders that the majority of people are good and decent.
We must shield our children from the horrific details of the event. We need to reassure them that such events are very unusual and represent the extraordinary and bizarre. They need to be reassured of all the adults in their world who take care to ensure their safety.
We must deliberately focus on moving from being victims, to survivors, to thrivers, so that we emerge from this tragedy with a sense of community, meaning, power, and resolve.
Talking is the primary way people express their feelings. Now is the time to talk to others about how we are impacted by these events—discuss our fears and questions with other adults. Again, shield the children from these discussions. We need to meet in community groups, much like this gathering to express our feelings and avoid isolation.
Then when the adults are calm, give your children an opportunity to talk about their fears and concerns, but don’t continually bring it up to them. Remind them of the things you and their schools do to keep them safe. Children may need to draw or act out their feelings in play if they lack to vocabulary to express their fears. Ask open-ended questions and respond only to their questions. Don’t give them more information than they are seeking. Allow them to return to childhood concerns such as the excitement of Christmas. That’s what our children should be thinking about . . . not tragedy.
We must focus on our support systems and call upon those people who lift us up, the people you can count on in times of trouble. Touching, holding and being physically close allow us to communicate and receive love, support, and protection. Hold your children, assure them that WE will be okay, so they know you are supporting them through any fears and concerns; that they don’t have to handle this alone.
To counter the feelings of helplessness that come from trauma, we need to focus on resilience. We human beings are wonderfully resilient. We must continue to identify and build protective factors that foster resilience such as:
- being committed to finding meaningful purpose in life
- believing that we can influence our surroundings
- believing that we can learn and grow from both positive and negative experiences
We cannot rid the world of all evil, but we can make a difference in each of our spheres of influence. It is important that we empower our children with this knowledge so they do not feel powerless.
We can provide encouragement to the discouraged; reach out to those who are isolated and alone, embrace those who are different, helping them find a place in our community. We can return to a sense of civility in which all are loved and valued. We can slow down long enough to smile, thank others, offer a word of encouragement, and acknowledge that we are human beings who need love and care, not merely machines spinning faster and faster on the treadmill of life.
Lost and Found and the Council of Churches have created a means for this community to reach out to support the Newtown community. We will collect messages of condolence and support to be shared with those who were touched by this tragedy. Messages can be submitted to either agency by mail, posted on The Council of Churches Facebook page or their website.
And we can teach our children how to reach out to others. Allow them to see and experience the good feelings that come from kindness to others. We can influence our surroundings and create a positive response to the tragedy. We can purposefully communicate to our children that our response to acts of violence should be deliberate attempts to make the world a better place. We don’t have to stand by helplessly.
Image how different the world would be if each of us followed the prayer of St. Francis . . . if we all chose to be instruments of peace, sowing love where there is hatred, giving pardon where there is injury, hope where there is despair, seeking to console and bring joy, working as hard to understand as we work to be understood, and to love as much as we seek to be loved.
Just as the ripples of this tragedy have extended throughout the world, the ripples of love and care can extend from each of your circles to the broader community. Love and care help us find the meaning and purpose in life that can heal our hearts and provide the resilience we need to overcome the negative effects of trauma.
1 Corinthians 13 reminds us of the power of love. “Love knows no limits in its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.”
Let us resolve to be the instruments of love and change to start this healing process.