We are now almost three weeks past the tragic event in Newtown, Conn. For some of us, these weeks have passed quickly as we have gone on with the daily demands of parenting and work. For others, the weeks have seemed long and daily tasks have been challenging as we attempt to make sense of the senseless. These two ends of the continuum are to be expected when we are touched by tragedy, and taking time to care for yourself is essential no matter where you fall on this continuum.
Just as parents were encouraged to maintain their children’s routines after the tragedy, following your routines will serve to help you cope and heal as well—keep your coffee dates, go to your spin or yoga class, and take the walk with your children or neighbors. Take stock of how you are faring. Has your sleep or appetite changed? Are you more irritable or teary than usual? In the event that you continue to experience differences in your mood or difficulties with daily tasks, consider reaching out for additional support from family, friends, clergy or a counselor.
Taking care of yourself is especially important when you are parenting, and, of course, more difficult because you are a parent. Children are exquisitely cued into their parents’ behaviors and feelings; maintaining your routine—and theirs—will help you all manage when things are more challenging. If your child is older and aware of the details of the tragedy in Connecticut, continue to follow her lead regarding any lingering questions and worries. Is she newly anxious or despondent? Find ways to address the concerns calmly and directly.
If your child is younger and is exhibiting changes in behavior (even if you don’t believe she was directly exposed to the news via TV, radio or other conversations), do your best to respond to her increased needs for comfort or proximity. If she is old enough, help her to identify her feelings and validate them. If, after a bit of time, you feel like your child is not returning to herself, consider reaching out to her teacher, pediatrician or other health care provider to talk about ways to support her individual needs.
For parenting resources related to coping with tragedy, please visit this resource page from ZERO TO THREE: National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families.
Lizzie McEnany, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist at the Center for Early Relationship Support at Jewish Family and Children’s Service.