Many children already experience anxiety about going to school or their safety in general due to the number of mass shootings. Until now most of these threats or shootings have not occurred in our area. However, this fact changed this past week. A student threatened to shoot students at Valhalla Middle School on the last day of school. The police were alerted to the threat and the student was arrested. The police searched his home and he had guns so he could have carried out his threat.
The school district and police did a good job of not publicizing the threat. The students who needed to be aware of the issue were warned and many schools added extra security measures for the last day of school. The good news is the police took action and prevented another mass school shooting. However, this incident brings this issue home. Before these incidents were occurring thousands of miles away. Now we had a real threat in our area.
Many children that I see for psychotherapy are already anxious and afraid that they will be shot at school or in a public place. I have children as young as 10 years old who carry knives with them where ever they go. When I ask them about why they need to carry weapons, they tell me for their protection. This current incident can exacerbate the anxiety and fears that children are feeling.
What can parents do? You can be there to reassure your child. If they mention the recent incident explain yes there was a threat, but the police were aware of it and took care of it and no one was hurt. You do not want to lie to them because that will increase their anxiety. It will also cause them to lose trust in you. They will hear about it from other children so being honest is the best solution. Also children’s imaginations are much more creative than reality. This is why it is important to tell them the truth.
Parents also need to watch their children for any significant personality changes. If your child is having difficulties sleeping or if they are reluctant to go play with friends or if you notice any significant mood changes. These are all indicators that your child may be having difficulties with anxiety or depression. If you notice any of these changes, schedule an appointment with a mental health clinician who specializes in treating children. You want someone who treats children because children often express anxiety and depression differently than adults. Therefore, if the therapist is use to treating mainly adults, the therapist may miss the warning signs in your child because they do not treat children on a regular basis. Also there is nothing to be ashamed of if you feel your child needs to be evaluated. Mental health issues are real and are not a sign of weakness or that someone is crazy. Mental health is part of a person’s over all health just like physical health. Also the sooner you address an issue, the easier it is to address the issue.
I have provided a couple things parents want to watch for in their children. I am also including a link to an article that discusses signs and symptoms that are more common in children and teens and not in adults https://www.psycom.net/hidden-signs-teen-anxiety/. This is a good list to help you determine if your child needs to be evaluated for anxiety or depression.
I understand that this is scary for parents too. Many parents may prefer to ignore the issue. However, this will not help our children and teenagers. This is the world they are going up in and as adults we need to do our best to prepare and protect them.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist who specializes in treating children and teenagers. He has over 20 years experience working with teenagers and also specializes in trauma and critical incident debriefings. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his web sites www.rcs-ca.com or www.RubinoCounseling.com or follow him on Twitter @RubinoTherapy.