Coping with Violence, Fear and Uncertainty
Tips for Coping
- Make sure you have access to media but limit excessive exposure. If feeling anxious, consider turning off social media feeds, automatic notifications and updates.
- Identify the feelings you are experiencing. Understand that your feelings are normal and talk about them with others.
- Don’t isolate yourself. Personal relationships are crucial in maintaining perspective, elevating mood and allowing distraction away from concerns that trouble us. Combat loneliness and keep talking by phone or video chat.
- Stay healthy by sleeping regularly, eating right, avoiding alcohol and other drugs, exercising, relaxing and doing things you enjoy.
- Maintain a routine.
- Remember that people react in different ways.
- Laugh, have fun and let yourself cry.
- Ask for help if it gets to be too much.
- Try not to judge yourself and others.
- Understand that people have strong, often complex and sometimes divergent points of view. Respect this and recognize that it is an opportunity to strengthen our commitment to building our community.
Helping Children and Teens Cope
Tips from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network:
Helping Teens with Traumatic Grief: Tips for Caregivers | Ayuda Para Los Adolescentes Con Duelo Traumático
- After a Crisis: Helping Young Children Heal | Después De Una Crisis: Cómo Sanan A Los Niños
- Age-Related Reactions to a Traumatic Event | Reacciones A Eventos Traumaticos Relacionadas Con La Edad
- Helping Children Cope with Grief | Cómo ayudar a los niños a enfrentar el duelo
- Guidelines for Helping Youth After a Recent Shooting | Guía para los Padres Para Ayudar a los jóvenes después de un tiroteo reciente
- Tips for Parents on Media Coverage of Violent Events
1. Check in with your child and talk to them about their concerns.
Mental health professionals advise that the first thing parents should do is make sure their child knows they are available to talk with them. Always start with asking your child or teen what they’ve already heard about the event. Ask open-ended questions and calmly respond in a simple and developmentally appropriate way. Young children may have heard nothing about it, but older children may have seen social media during the school day. Help your child to identify their feelings about the shooting. One way to do this is to model expressing how you feel about it.
Children can send thank you notes to the paramedics, peace officers and teachers who helped to save lives in the tragic event, which in turn helps the child feel like they have hope. Children can also make cards with words of support to the other children affected in the tragedy, which can help them to process their own feelings.
2. Reassure kids of their safety.
Parents should immediately reassure children that they are safe — a practice that extends to all trauma survivors. With younger children, adults can explain what adults do to keep them safe, such as locking doors and conducting emergency drills.
3. Treat children according to their age.
Give young children only brief, simple information. These children are less verbal so they may communicate about their anxiety by drawing or playing. Answer their questions with specifics, but don’t overload them.
For middle- and high-school age youth, more detailed conversations will be appropriate. The best place to have that conversation depends on the teen — it could be in the car or while a friend is present, instead of just sitting and talking about the event one on one.
4. Limit exposure to the media.
This is true for youth of all ages. Violent images can cause secondary trauma. For younger children, every time they watch the news, they feel like it’s a new event as opposed to repetition of the same event. It’s important for them not to watch. While older kids will understand that difference, prolonged exposure to graphic images and details is harmful to them as well.
5. Model healthy behavior.
Children pick up everything their parents are saying and doing. Parents can set an example by turning off the television, radio or social media. Parents may acknowledge that constantly watching or hearing about a violent incident makes them feel anxious or fearful too.
6. Maintain routines.
Sticking to regular routines can be reassuring and can help children and teens maintain a sense of normality. For example, continuing to eat together, do homework or hang out with friends. With teenagers, giving them extra time to be with their friends is important. It helps them establish normality and connect to their support network.
7. Have a plan.
Review safety procedures at school and at home. Let children know whom to call, where to meet and how to communicate in case of an emergency. This helps children feel secure and know adults are in control.
8. Observe children’s emotional state and seek help if necessary.
The majority of children are resilient and will not experience long-term symptoms after a one-off event, experts said. Immediately after a violent incident they may experience anxiety and fear. Some people closer to the incident may also have difficulty sleeping or be jittery.
Watch for changes in behavior, mood, appetite or sleep. You should also look for avoidance of school, social isolation and increased tantrums. When such symptoms persist over time and start affecting how a person functions, that’s when professional help may be needed from a school counselor, therapist or doctor.
Additional Resources from the Virginia Department of Education
Talking to children about terrorist attacks and school and community shootings in the news (National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement) This guide offers advice on how to talk to children about tragic events, such as shootings and terrorist attacks, that they are likely to hear about at school and/or on the news.
Talking to Children about Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers (National Association of School Psychologists) This guide provides tips for parents and school personnel to help children feel safe by establishing a sense of normalcy and security and talking with them about their fears. Also includes an infographic and is translated into multiple languages.
Restoring a Sense of Safety in the Aftermath of a Mass Shooting (Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress) A tip sheet for parents and professionals on how to restore a sense of safety and answers to frequently asked questions.
Talking to Children About the Shooting (National Child Traumatic Stress Network) Provides information on how to talk to children about mass shootings. This tip sheet describes ways to talk to children about mass violence events that involve a shooting. It gives tips about how to start the conversation, common reactions children may have, and how to seek help if needed.
Notes from the Backpack Podcast: How to Talk to Your Kid About Gun Safety (Parent Teacher Association) This podcast is a conversation with expert Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez. She shares how to have open and honest conversations with children of all ages about lockdown drills, school shootings and all of the emotions that come along with these topics.
Normal Reactions to Fear and Uncertainty
- Anxiety, increased worry
- Not wanting to be separated from loved ones
- Irritability, anger
- Fatigue, exhaustion
- Sadness, crying
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Inability to concentrate
- Frequent errors
- Difficulty making decisions
- Physical complaints, diarrhea
- New or increased use of tobacco products, alcohol or other drug
At times of stress and anxiety, shallow breathing or hyperventilation are common. Mindful, regular breathing can reset the normal stress response and prevent or reverse the onset of the unpleasant physical symptoms associated with anxiety.
This is also true for exercise, which can help reduce the excess adrenaline build-up associated with anxiety. It can also give much needed perspective.
To practice deep breathing, take a slow deep breath through your nose to the count of five. Hold your breath for another 5-count then exhale through your mouth for a 5-count.
Finger Fan: Extend your arms straight out in front of you with palms up. Spread your fingers as far apart as possible and hold for 5 seconds.
Upper-back Stretch: Sit up straight with your fingers inter-laced behind your head. Keep your shoulders down, lift your chest and bring your elbows back as far as you can. Hold for 10 seconds.
Ear to Shoulder: Lower your right ear to your right shoulder and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Overhead Reach: Raise your arms over your head and interlace your fingers with your palms facing up. Keep your shoulders down and stretch upwards. Hold for 20 seconds.
Knee Pull: While seated, pull one knee up to your chest as high as possible. Hold with both hands for 10 seconds then repeat the other knee.
Waist Bend: Reach arms overhead with finger interlaced. Keep shoulders down and bend to one side at the waist. Hold for 20 seconds then repeat on the other side.
Multi-cultural Resources and Race-Based Trauma Resources
Multicultural Mental Health Resources
While chronic stress has negative effects on everyone, pervasive exposure to psycho-social factors like racism and discrimination create additional daily stressors for people of color. This page contains multicultural mental health resources, resources for the LGBTQ+ community, resources for immigrants and more.
Race-Based Trauma Resources
This page contains a growing list of resources related to coping with racism and trauma on individual, interpersonal/family, community and national/global levels.
Crisis Information, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Screening
If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others call or text 24/7:
PRS CrisisLink Hotline 703.527.4077 or Text "connect" to 855-11
TTY, please dial 7-1-1
Department of Community and Human Services Emergency Services 703.746.3401.
Suicide Risks and Prevention Resources and Information
Learn how you can get help, support someone in crisis and prevent suicide.
Free, Confidential Mental Health Screening
DCHS offers an online screening tool for mental health and substance use disorders. This free screening is made available to the general public and is taken anonymously. The screening is provided so that you may find out - in a few minutes - whether or not professional consultation would be helpful to you.
Recognizing Abuse and Staying Safe
- Access domestic violence and sexual assault resources and learn how to stay safe at home English | Spanish | Arabic | Amharic.
- Learn how to recognize signs of domestic abuse and abuse in children and adults English | Other languages coming soon!
Coping with COVID-19 Fear and Uncertainty
Fear and anxiety about COVID-19 can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Taking care of yourself, your friends and your family can help you cope with stress. Helping others cope with their stress can also make your community stronger.
The content of this page is available in an easy to print and distribute flyer (below). We encourage residents to share this and the other resources on this page, especially in communities where languages other than English are primarily spoken, and with vulnerable residents, including those who may not have access to traditional media.
Assistance from a Distance
Resources to Meet Basic Needs for Those Impacted by the Coronavirus COVID-19
The City and its partners are working together to provide information and resources that may offer some level of support, security and stability for families in need due to the impacts of the coronavirus: COVID-19 Resources.