Oh friends, this was not the blog I imagined writing the week before Christmas. I was working on something festive and light, happy and magical. Then December 14th occurred and we witnessed an unimaginable tragedy unfold. Since then I am having trouble holding it together, spontaneously crying when I look at my babies and needing to hold them close. I try to hide these “big emotions” from my little ones who aren’t aware of what’s occurred in the world, but I’m sure they can sense the underlying sadness I’m feeling.
(Pic by my lovely friend, Lee Sutton)
Cape Cod Mommies contributor, Tracy Lamperti, had a wonderful post a few days ago about the response our children may be feeling and how we can help them. She used the words “vicarious trauma” and it was so helpful for me to read this term, because this is exactly what I’m feeling and what I hear so many of my friends are feeling as well. We keep telling ourselves, “this is not our pain” and yet we feel it tremendously. We are traumatized – by the unimaginable hurt these families are experiencing and a new sense of danger in our daily lives. Any parent understands that once you have a child, the most vulnerable, precious piece of yourself is running around in the world and, in the end, your ability to protect that treasure is limited. This tragedy was a very, clear reminder of our loved ones’ vulnerability and our powerlessness in certain situations.
But here’s the thing, my children don’t know about their fragility, they only know their strength. They feel the power in their bodies
as they jump and run and twirl. They feel the unending love streaming from their family and they have no idea of the fears their parents harbor as they watch their babies leap over boundary after boundary. This is what I’m focusing on right now, as I work to push past the vicarious trauma we’ve all experienced from this horrific act. Provide my babies with that safe harbor I spoke about in my last post, a place that’s calm, loving, and supports their exploration. I am working to let go of my increasing anxiety about the world so I’m not passing that fear onto these growing girls.
And here’s the other thing, it’s still Christmas. A magical, beautiful, loving time of year. I don’t want to lose that magic. Nobody wants to lose the magic. So we are seeing people bring light and love to one of the darkest holiday seasons many of us have ever witnessed. So many are making efforts to help, to comfort, to provide, to love the people in Connecticut. Right now people all over the country are making paper snowflakes and decorations to send to the Sandy Hook School’s new location, so that those traumatized children will have magic return to their lives. On Friday, the Yarmouth Police Department is going to Newtown to bring decorations, home baked goods, and items of comfort to the children, families, and first responders to assist in their healing. We are seeing the best in people during the worst of times. This, mamas, is bringing magic back for me.
I know there will be a time when Christmas music doesn’t make me cry, and when the magic of this season will occur naturally, and I will be able to write blog posts about the wonder I feel watching my children decorate cookies and make Christmas crafts. Right now, I’m going to hug my babies. I’m going to let their imaginations run wild with the idea of Santa, the North Pole, and Rudolph. I’m going to have dance parties after dinner to the tunes of Jingle Bells and We Wish You A Merry Christmas. And I’m going to make snowflakes, lots and lots of snowflakes. My Christmas wish is for all of us to have a peaceful, calm, loving holiday season.
A couple of ways to help Newtown:
The tragic crime at the Sandy Hook Elementary School that took so many precious lives on Friday raises very deep issues for parents.
“What is going on in our world?”
“How do I talk to my child about this?”
“How do I reassure my child that they are safe in school?”
“Are they safe in school?....”
This is typically thought of as experienced by professionals that witness a lot of traumatic experiences in those they work with. I would contend that it is vicarious trauma that many of OUR children will be experiencing as they experience tragedies such as these horrific school shootings and the like. Our children are hearing about the incidents and often times seeing images of the incidents. Their mind goes to, “This could happen to me. I’m a child. I go to a school. Some people have guns. Some kids in my school are really angry and talk about violent things.” The same goes for natural disasters.
Children experiencing vicarious trauma might show signs of anxiety. They might be worried about things that were not previously an issue. Children might experience bad dreams. They may become more quiet than usual or they may act out more readily. Sometimes, the energy and “excitement” of the trauma might cause children to respond emotionally in an unexpected way, such as acting hyper or silly or even telling about the tragedy with a smile on their face as if they are happy or think it is funny. Assuredly, this has to do with how children respond to additional emotional energy in their environment. They are surely not happy about people getting hurt, rather, they are having difficulty processing the extra energy in the environment.
How can parents help?
1. If your children are not around when you get word of a traumatic event that your children might be exposed to, call a grounded friend. Talk it over and try your best to get into a calm frame of mind. If your
children are present, if possible, go behind closed doors and call a friend. Remember, a part of your
child’s brain is always “tuned in” to their parent.
2. Turn the TV off. Get as much of the information as you need when your child is not present. They need to hear the news from you, and you need to disperse the news to your child in a developmentally appropriate manner that only you know your child can comprehend. They need to receive the information in pieces that they can take in and they need to receive the information once, not the 25 times in an hour that the news flashes come across the screen.
3. Monitor your conversations with others in person and by phone when your child is present.
4. It can be helpful to focus on the First Responders, rather than the victims. I.e. “I am so grateful that the police men were there to help direct the teachers and children in what to do.” Or, “The teachers were trained and look how they were leading the children to a safe place.” Or, in a natural disaster, “There are lots of workers out to repair the power lines and clear the streets.” Or, for those who are injured, “The Red Cross will be helping all of the hurt people and the paramedics are there also.”
5. Parents are guides for children. Manage your emotions well and don’t be afraid to show sadness to your child and even tears. It is ok for parents to cry and for parents and children to cry together. It is better to turn off the news coverage and shed a tear than to glue yourself to the TV and take in every detail.
6. Leave your “adult obligations” for later. Drop it in these times and go for a beach walk with your children. Have a game night. If you want to focus on the tragedy, make cards for the people impacted by the tragedy.
Think of ways that you can support them in a concrete way, such as sending something that they might need or donating their extra pennies to the Red Cross with a note.
7. Many will agree that there are some spiritual issues here. “Why would God allow this?” Surely, these tragedies provide an opportunity for each of us to look at our faith and why or how we believe what we do. Continue to seek and impart this seeking to your children.
8. If you see signs of anxiety or trauma, do not ignore them. We know that anxiety symptoms left to their own, typically do not get better, but more imbedded. Seek professional assistance if you are unsure.
9. Even in tragedy, we tend to return to the baseline of our “normal” life and routine before long. When you find yourself back into your normal routine, revisit the incident. Your child may or may not bring up, “Mom, I’m worried. Remember when that school shooting happened?...” Whether it is a natural disaster or the evil of our society, it is ok for parents to be the first one to revisit it with their child, “Hey John, I’ve been wondering if you have been thinking about the tornado that caused some much destruction last month?” Keep the dialog going with your children. Always.
Blessings of peace and joy in this holiday season. Especially, God bless those directly impacted by the school shooting.
Tracy Lamperti, LMHC, BCETS
Follow the links to learn more about the impact of trauma.
Acute Stress Disorder
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
By Elizabeth Pantley, Author of the “No-Cry Solution” book series
“Help! I’m getting so frustrated with the endless stream of advice I get from my mother-in-law and brother! No matter what I do, I’m doing it wrong. I love them both, but how do I get them to stop dispensing all this unwanted advice?”
Just as your baby is an important part of your life, he is also important to others. People who care about your baby are bonded to you and your child in a special way that invites their counsel. Knowing this may give you a reason to handle the interference gently, in a way that leaves everyone’s feelings intact.
Regardless of the advice, it is your baby, and in the end, you will raise your child the way that you think best. So it’s rarely worth creating a war over a well-meaning person’s comments. You can respond to unwanted advice in a variety of
It’s natural to be defensive if you feel that someone is judging you; but chances are you are not being criticized; rather,
the other person is sharing what they feel to be valuable insight. Try to listen - you may just learn something valuable.
If you know that there is no convincing the other person to change her mind, simply smile, nod, and make a non-committal response, such as, “Interesting!” Then go about your own business...your way.
You might find one part of the advice that you agree with. If you can, provide wholehearted agreement on that topic.
Pick your battles
If your mother-in-law insists that Baby wear a hat on your walk to the park, go ahead and pop one on his head. This won’t have any long-term effects except that of placating her. However, don’t capitulate on issues that are important to you or the health or well-being of your child.
Steer clear of the topic
If your brother is pressuring you to let your baby cry to sleep, but you would never do that, then don’t complain to him about your baby getting you up five times the night before. If he brings up the topic, then distraction is definitely in order, such as, “Would you like a cup of coffee?”
Knowledge is power; protect yourself and your sanity by reading up on your parenting choices. Rely on the confidence that you are doing your best for your baby.
Educate the other person
If your“teacher” is imparting information that you know to be outdated or wrong, share what you’ve learned on the topic. You may be able to open the other person’s mind. Refer to a study, book, or report that you have read.
Quote a doctor
Many people accept a point of view if a professional has validated it. If your own pediatrician agrees with your position, say, “My doctor said to wait until she’s at least six months before starting solids.” If your own doctor doesn’t back your view on that issue, then refer to another doctor - perhaps the author of a baby care book.
You can avoid confrontation with an elusive response. For example, if your sister asks if you’ve started potty training yet
(but you are many months away from even starting the process), you can answer with, “We’re moving in that direction.”
Ask for advice!
Your friendly counselor is possibly an expert on a few issues that you can agree on. Search out these points and invite guidance. She’ll be happy that she is helping you, and you’ll be happy you have a way to avoid a showdown about topics that you don’t agree on.
Memorize a standard response
Here’s a comment that can be said in response to almost any piece of advice: “This may not be the right way for you, but it’s the right way for me.”
Try being honest about your feelings. Pick a time free of distractions and choose your words carefully, such as, “I know how much you love Harry, and I’m glad you spend so much time with him. I know you think you’re helping me when you give me advice about this, but I’m comfortable with my own approach, and I’d really appreciate if you’d understand that.”
Find a mediator
If the situation is putting a strain on your relationship with the advice-giver, you may want to ask another person to step
in for you.
Search out like-minded friends
Join a support group or on-line club with people who share your parenting philosophies. Talking with others who are raising their babies in a way that is similar to your own can give you the strength to face people who don’t understand your viewpoints.
Reprinted by permission of Elizabeth Pantley, author of the “No-Cry Solution” book series. (McGraw-Hill) http://www.nocrysolution.com
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