On Friday 15th March 2019, a man attacked two mosques in the city of Christchurch and shot dead 50 people. Within minutes our country’s innocence was gone.
I thought I was OK now. On Friday, I was in a state of shock and teary-eyed several times, especially when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that there were 40 fatalaties (later to be increased to 50). That moment was when I knew we would never be the same nation again.
But I thought I was OK now. However, after dropping my kids off at school on Monday morning, I couldn’t exit the school grounds due to five police cars screaming down the road, lights flashing, sirens wailing. For a moment I thought twice about leaving my kids – kids who are the same age as two of the victims of the mosque shootings. And yet what I am feeling is nothing compared to what has been experienced by the victims, the injured, the survivors, their families and friends, the first responders, the Muslim community, and those who are living in Christchurch.
This is us now
My initial thoughts when I saw the unfolding events on Friday were the same as many New Zealanders – “this is not us” and “this doesn’t happen here”. But now it has happened here and I so wish it hadn’t. I wish New Zealand wasn’t trending on Twitter for this. I wish we weren’t the major headline on CNN for this. I wish the world’s landmarks weren’t lit up with the New Zealand flag for this. I wish rugby players weren’t wearing black arm bands for this. I wish my kids didn’t have to observe a minute’s silence before their sports match on Saturday for this. Because it all makes it so real. But all of this is necessary. All of this is part of our show of unity, our expression of support, and our grieving and healing process.
What do we tell the kids?
Before my child’s sports match on the weekend, during the discussion about observing a minute’s silence, a mother said to me, “a minute’s silence is the right thing to do, even though the kids don’t really understand what has happened.”
I beg to differ. These were 13 and 14 year olds. Throughout the game I could hear the kids talking amongst themselves about the attack, about what happened, about what might follow, with surprising clarity and understanding. Just because YOU are not talking to your kids about stuff, it doesn’t mean that they don’t hear about these things and that they aren’t having their own discussions and forming their own worst-case scenarios. And it is so much better to hear the truth and the appropriate reassurance from you than from the gossip that goes around the school quad. But try to focus on the helpers, ie, the police who captured the attacker, the heroic actions of their fellow human beings, the medical staff who perform miracles to save lives. Urge them to see the everyday heroes.
Supporting children after a traumatic event
Following the events in Christhcurch, the Ministry of Health has developed two resources in both English and Arabic to assist those in mental distress. More languages are being added and you can check here for updates.
These resources include the following tips for supporting children:
- Reassure your children that the event is over and they are safe.
- Encourage them to talk about how they feel about what happened.
- Tell them they can ask questions, and answer these in plain language appropriate to their age – be honest but avoid details of the trauma.
- Avoid extended exposure to the event – try not to talk about it constantly, turn the news off, and shut down social media for a while.
- Tell them that feeling upset or afraid is normal, and that telling you how they are feeling will help, that with time they will feel better.
- Don’t tell your child “don’t worry” or “don’t be upset” – it is natural to want to protect them from fear and difficult emotions, but they need to have their feelings acknowledged and validated as a normal response.
- Be understanding – they may have problems sleeping, tantrums, wet the bed – be patient and reassuring if this happens – again, with support and care it will pass.
- Give your children extra love and attention.
- Remember that children look to their parents to both feel safe and to know how to respond – reassure them, share that you are upset too but that you know you will all be fine together.
- Try to keep to normal routines – mealtimes, bedtimes etc. – allow them to get out and play, to go to the park etc.
- Try not to be over-protective, again this is a natural thing for a parent to do, but as part of keeping normal routines, it is helpful for your child to be distracted by going to the park, playing with friends outdoors etc. This helps them feel that their world is safe again, and that normal life can go on.
- HOWEVER if a child’s distress is escalating, or they are displaying any worrying behaviours – extreme withdrawal, terror that you cannot comfort them from etc – seek help early. Your GP is a good start, or you can call or text 1737 – free, anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – to talk it through with a trained counsellor.
You can call or text 1737 – free, anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – to talk with a trained counsellor.
How much exposure do you think your child has had to the events?
Written by Julie Scanlon
Julie is Editor for Kidspot NZ and our MVP. Her hobbies include laughing uncontrollably at her own jokes, annoying her family by asking questions about movie plots, and never taking anything too seriously. She speaks a little Spanish and a lot of Yorkshire.
Favourite motto to live by: “It ain’t nothing but a thing”