What can we do as parents:
Don't panic and get in front of it. Use this as an opportunity to have a conversation with your child about it.
So for teenagers say something like
“I’m sure you’ve heard that there is some footage from Friday going around online. “Have you seen it? Or has it come up in your social media at all?"
For younger children – go back and check the restrictions on their devices, tell them to check with you if they see something scary online.
If they haven't seen it or say no they haven't seen it, then check in with them that they
1) know it is illegal content,
2) what to do if it does come up in their social media (flag it, report and close it).
3)also, highlight that every time the video is watched the perpetrator achieves his goal a little bit more.
Most young people won't have seen it, and most will not want to see it. Be factual without sensationalising and therefore glamourising it. Be mindful that we don't perpetuate it. If we make a big thing of it, it makes it more appealing.
If they have seen it or you find out that they have seen it:
Don’t panic and don’t judge and say something out of shock like “why on earth would you do something like that” – You want to be in their corner for this and if they have seen it you want them to be able to talk to you about if they need to.
Teenagers brains are wired differently, half way between maturity and a sense of invincibility, they are wired to take risks more readily and don’t necessarily think of the consequences, especially if peers are involved. FYI, it isn't just teenagers who have watched this material either.
Remember not everyone who has seen it will be impacted in the same way.
If they have seen it talk about how they felt and listen – there is no wrong feeling around this and you need to be as neutral as possible. Most will probably reveal a mixture of curiosity and revulsion but nothing is wrong and all feelings are valid. Listening to them and how it made them feel gives us some insight into what sense they made of it and what to do in order to support them.
Do not get drawn into a conversation about the details of what they saw. Reliving it in a conversation with you isn't helpful as the brain relives it as they recall it. You also don't want to worry them about something they may not have been that worried about.
Again not all people who watched this will be traumatised, but as we cant unsee things be mindful that this may be something that crops up later on even if there isn't an obvious impact now.
Use this as a time to have a conversation about good digital citizenship and safe internet usage and also if relevant a conversation about using the internet that promotes mental health and well being. That includes choosing to consume information about Friday's attack that focuses on how NZ has come together in rejection of these ideals, shown true aroha, manaakitanga and kotahitanga.
There is an obvious link between first person shooter gaming and the live stream, and perhaps there may be a desensitising impact of this upon that material that may perversely be a protective factor if they have seen it. This is pure subjecture though on my part.
Signs that this has affected them:
Your child may become withdrawn, have difficulty sleeping, or be talking about the details over and over, they may also find watching news stories about the details of the attack stressful.
Strategies that can help:
breathing and grounding exercises,
The fear part of the brain that is there to protect us, doesn’t differentiate between a real threat and a perceived threat – so we need to give them strategies to take back control of their thoughts and emotions. We need to remind them that although that was tragic, it is over and that they are essentially safe.
Breathing - We can do this by focusing on the breathe and getting out of our head.
The purpose is to ride out the stressful feelings and restore a sense of calm. Try breathing in for four and out for four
Grounding – so again aimed at bringing them out of their own thoughts and into the present – take a deep breath and name:
or simply say to yourself what you see "I am sitting in my chair, it is green, I can see my window, the curtains are open and outside I can see the green garage door".
This brings us back to where we actually are and out of out thoughts.
Connecting with the good that has come out of this tragedy - Focus on the outpouring of love and support that has been prevalent in the wake of Fridays events. Take positive action to restore a sense of balance.
Know when to seek help
There are many available resources being set up to support people who feel affected by this.
Take away: just because your child has seen this, doesn't mean they will be traumatised and even if they are this probably wont have a life long impact. Don't panic as there are things you can do to protect our children and also support them if they have been exposed to this material. How you respond will also play a key part in how they respond.
Dr Emma x
Practical advice for parents. How to support our children's mental health through the aftermath of the attack on Friday
Last night I went onto The Project to talk about how we can support our children during the aftermath of Friday’s terror attack. You can watch the segment here. As always time was short so I wanted to write more comprehensive information for parents.
As the days pass and more information comes to light here are some practical tips and advice to support maintain your child's resilience and mental health in the days and weeks to come. Most of it is common sense but often when we are shocked we need help to remember what we already know.
Thankfully, most children and young people will not be that adversely affected and at most might display a bemused curiosity. As I mentioned last night, they will mainly be looking to us for clues as to how concerned they need to be about this event. So the first thing we can do is check in with ourselves about our own reactions.
If your child is particularly aware, has heard something in school or are older and you want to be the first person to share information with them, here are some ways in which you can frame that conversation.
Some ways in which you can talk with your child about what has happened:
Younger children don’t need to worry about grown up issues, and we need to take the lead in maintaining their sense of the world as a safe place. When talking to younger children (early primary age) simply be factual in a way that they can understand, for example:
“Somebody did something bad and some people were hurt and some died. The police have caught that person and doctors and nurses have been helping those who were hurt”
Older children and Teens will have access to sources other than us at home and we need to be mindful of what sense they have made of it all from the information that they have come across. Try asking open ended questions such as:
“What have you heard? What do you think about that? How does that make you feel?”
Really listen in to their answer to check that they are responding in a mentally healthy way to the news. You can use this as an opportunity to explore how they have made sense of what is going on and remind them that they can talk to you whenever they have questions.
If Friday’s events have had a significant impact on your child (but they were not directly involved):
Some children may be more affected than others, this is because they may be closer to those who were attacked and see similarities between themselves and them. They may be worried what has happened could also happen to them. If your child needs reassurance give it to them in the form of physical closeness, maintaining normal routines and responding to their emotional needs.
For example: if your child is asking lots of questions about specific details, understand that this is an attempt to try and gain certainty over a very uncertain situation. Try not to get caught up in answering these questions and try saying something like:
“I think you are asking lots of questions because you are worried, that is natural as it was very shocking. I was shocked too. This is what I am doing to make myself feel better and safer (see some tips below)”.
This acknowledges their feelings and also gives them a sense that they can manage them and regain control over their own safety. You need to empathise and be honest but respect that their brains are still developing, and they don’t yet have the ability to rationalise and think things through like you. Your job is to model that scary thoughts and feelings do not need to control us and we have the power to manage them.
Ongoing Media Coverage
Humans tend to seek to make sense of tragedy by poring over the details. There is no reassurance to be found in the details of the attack, only in how we now come together to overcome it. Therefore, you might need to be more proactive in supporting older children and teens who have access to social media or have more insight to make sense of what has happened and also the continued news and media stories.
Regaining a sense of order and control
Terror attacks by their very nature, make us feel powerless and vulnerable. Some people deal with those feelings by getting angry and looking for someone, or some group of people, to blame. Other people become anxious and overwhelmed by this sense of powerlessness. The healthiest way to deal with this is to come together as families, communities and as a nation to stand against the ideals that do not represent us as Kiwis. We have seen many examples of this in the news over the weekend.
Some practical ways in which you can do this are:
Livestream of the attack
Prepare your children who have access to social media and the internet that this material is out there online. Let them know that our brains are not designed to watch material like that without being adversely affected. You might also highlight that each time it is watched we give more power to the perpetrator. Ensure your child knows what to do should it come up on their feed.
No-one is immune to this, a recording of the live stream came up on my Facebook feed. I reported it and it was removed within six minutes. This is a small way we can personally restore the balance.
If your child or young person (or even you) have seen the livestream
Talk about how it has affected you. Do not go over and over it in great detail, this can cause more damage than good. Simply acknowledge that you have been exposed to potentially traumatising material and take steps to manage your mental health and well being in relation to this.
Despite what some media outlets have been reporting, the perpetrator did not undertake this atrocity due to having played violent online games. Whilst there is a multitude of research as to the impact of first person shooter games on the developing brain (which is a separate issue in itself), games like Fortnite and Halo did not cause that person to commit this atrocity, hatred and extremism are to blame.
Remember to access help if you need it
Dr Emma x
NB: This is meant as a general guide for parents and not specifically meant for parents of children who were directly impacted by Friday's events.