As a youthworker you may be struggling with how to talk with your students about a shooting rampage. It may be difficult to talk to your students about the devastation of an F4 tornado that wipes out a small town. It is important to remember that children look to the adults in their life to make them feel safe. This is true no matter what age the children are, be they toddlers, adolescents, or even young adults.

Consider the following tips for helping your students manage their distress.

Talk with your students. Talking to your students about their worries and concerns is the first step to help them feel safe and begin to cope with the events occurring around them. What you talk about and how you say it does depend on their age, but all students need to be able to know you are there listening to them.

  • Find times when they are most likely to talk: such as when riding in the car, while dinner, with peers, or at coffee shop.
  • Start the conversation; let them know you are interested in them and how they are coping with the information they are getting.
  • Listen to their thoughts and point of view; don’t interrupt–allow them to express their ideas and understanding before you respond.
  • Express your own opinions and ideas without putting down theirs; acknowledge that it is okay to disagree.
  • Remind them you are there for them to provide safety, comfort and support. Give them a hug.

Keep your ministry settings a safe place. Youth, regardless of age, often find home to be a safe haven when the world around them becomes overwhelming. But sometimes home is the environment in which the crisis lives. During times of crisis, it is important to remember that your students may come to youth group seeking the safe feeling they denied at home. Help make it a place where your students find the solitude or comfort they need.

Watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety. After a traumatic event, it is typical for teens (and adults) to experience a wide range of emotions, including fearfulness, shock, anger, grief and anxiety. Your student’s behaviors may change because of their response to the event. They may experience trouble sleeping, difficulty with concentrating on school work, or changes in appetite. This is normal for everyone and should begin to disappear in a few months. Encourage your students and their parents to create space where they can convert feelings into words by talking about them or journaling. Some youth may find it helpful to express their feelings through art. Make concession for artistic expression during your gatherings. Many student lack a broad emotional vocabulary to accurately reflect what’s going on inside their head.

Take “news breaks”. Your students may want to keep informed by gathering information about the event from the internet, television, or newspapers. It is important to limit the amount of time spent watching the news because constant exposure may actually heighten their anxiety and fears. Also, scheduling some breaks for yourself is important; allow yourself time to engage in activities you enjoy.

Take care of yourself. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your students and their families. Be a model for others on how to manage traumatic events. Keep regular schedules for activities such as family meals and exercise to help restore a sense of security and normalcy.

These tips and strategies can help you guide you’re your students and their families through the current crisis. If you are feeling stuck or overwhelmed, you may want to consider talking to someone who could help. A licensed mental health professional or counselor can assist you in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward. It is important to get professional help if you feel like you are unable to function or perform basic activities of daily living.

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