Healing from tragedy -- help for parents after Sandy Hook

by Melissa Jaramillo

Tragedy at Sandy HookLunches packed. Backpacks stuffed. Shoes tied. Coats, gloves, and hats in place. Exasperated cries of "Hurry up! We have to go!" Doors slam closed. "Goodbye, I love you!"

How many times does this same type of scenario play out – not only within the U.S., but throughout the world as kids -- our kids -- head out to school? We do so certainly at the end of the school day, there will be warm hugs and giggles to greet us.

We each are struggling to process the senseless tragedies that recently took place at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT. Our hearts absolutely break for the victims and their families; for those "babies" that witnessed their friends' lives stolen; for those that arrived only to be met with one of the most horrific scenes imaginable.

Most of us were not directly impacted in these shocking events, but as parents we relate. We may find the thought of moving forward impossible to fathom as we understandably project on our own families. In the throes of coming to terms, you might find the following questions keeping you up at night:

• How can I send my child to school again?
• How can I keep my child safe?
• What can I say to my child to help them feel better?

As much as we would love to shelter our families completely, for most of us living in a bubble isn't an option.

How can I send my child to school again?

The fact that school shootings remain relatively rare does little to comfort worried parents and children today. Many schools are offering counseling services for those that may be anxious. While homeschooling has grown significantly, it may not be the right choice for your family.

Given the proximity to most schools' winter break, if your child is finding the thought of going back right now too difficult, consider taking off a couple of extra days. Don't forget to check with teachers first. Time can enable a bit of healing.

Everyone handles stress differently. Don't assume that your child wants to be pulled out of school. Many will benefit from sticking to routine. They are likely to receive reassurance from teachers and school administrators regarding steps that have been taken to keep them safe. Mostly, they may appreciate the opportunity to connect with friends. Having a sense of normalcy can help them cope.

How can I keep my child safe?

The unnerving answer is that you can't completely. We take precautionary measures every day like insisting our children are in the proper car seats and seat belts; following the speed limit; driving defensively but still may be the victim of a senseless drunk driver.

Investigate your children's school safety plan for students inside the classroom and out. Talk with teachers. Ask questions regarding the number of volunteers at the school. Consider volunteering yourself. Network with other parents in your child's classroom and keep their contact information close.

If you haven't already, develop a family emergency plan. Dependent upon the age of your child, stress the need to follow instructions of their teacher/caregiver in charge of keeping them safe. Once your child has mastered learning your cell phone number, teach them an alternate emergency contact.

What can I say to help them feel better?

Hug them close and say "I love you." Do not automatically steer conversation to another topic. Many children have a need to share their feelings within a safe environment. Encourage them to express their thoughts through discussions, drawings, or writing out stories or poems.

Switch off the news on TV. The nonstop coverage can be overwhelming for children and parents alike. You can catch up later.

Share all the safety precautions that you, their school, and their teachers have in place to assist them in feeling secure. Additional strength and healing may be found according to your personal beliefs within churches or other organizations.

Help them create cards or letters to send to the victims' families and/or survivors. The school's mailing address is: Sandy Hook Elementary, 12 Dickinson Dr., Sandy Hook, CT 06482. If your family would like to make a donation, the Newtown School Board has directed these to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund.

As parents we want our kids to have a childhood that is secure, happy and filled with innocence. While the latter may be somewhat shattered, don't give up the dream. Continue providing a loving family unit as a constant to turn towards.

To all the victims' families, first responders, and all those directly impacted – you remain in our thoughts, our prayers, and our hearts.

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.