Recovery Support for Students who have Faced a Shooting Incident

Recovery support for students who have faced a shooting incident

How can we help student shooting rehabilitation? According to a recent Washington Post report, since 1966, 1,102 Americans have been killed in mass killings. Thousands more have been wounded, both emotionally and mentally. These survivors come from almost every race, faith, and socio-economic context, living otherwise average lives in Parkland, Florida; Aurora, Colorado; or dozens of other cities whose names have been reflected in our minds. While mass shootings account for only a small fraction of the country’s gun deaths, they are particularly alarming because they happen without warning in the most popular places: schools, churches, office buildings, and concert venues.[1] “Simply by definition, mass shootings are more likely to lead to problems with the values that most of us have, including that we live in a fair society and that if we make wise choices, we’ll be healthy,” says Laura Wilson, Ph.D., co-author, and editor of The Wiley Handbook of Psychology of Mass Shootings and Assistant Professor of Psychology at Mary Washington University in Fredericks.

Many of the survivors demonstrate endurance. But others—especially those who felt their lives or those of their loved ones were at risk or did not obtain social support—experienced chronic mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, and drug misuse.

The National Center for PTSD reports that 28 percent of those who have experienced a mass shooting experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and one third develop acute stress disorder. Evidence also shows that mass shooting survivors could be at increased risk for mental health issues compared to those who encounter other forms of trauma, such as natural disasters. [2]Research led by a graduate student at Northern Illinois University (NIU) Lynsey Miron, Ph.D., after the 2008 NIU campus shooting, found that while a large majority of mass shooting survivors were either resilient or exhibited only short-term stress reactions, about 12 percent registered chronic PTSD, which is higher than the estimated incidence of PTSD among trauma survivors.

What is essential, psychologists’ study shows, is to ensure that victims remain linked to their families in the wake of gun violence and have continued resources available to them. Memorial events—especially those organized and led by students and communities—are most helpful to survivors healing from a gun violence incident. In 2014, a young man killed six people and injured fourteen others by gunshot, stabbing, and vehicle ramming in Santa Barbara, California.  Memorial events shortly after the incident included a candlelight vigil the night of the incident and a paddle-out memorial, which included thousands of neighborhood surfers assembled in the ocean to honor the victims of the tragedy.[3]

Supporting your child coping with a tragedy or a traumatic event.

Your child’s reaction to a tragedy or a stressful experience may be heavily affected by your response. Children of all ages—even teens wanting independence—look to their parents for support and reassurance in times of crisis. If you have undergone a stressful incident alongside your child, you must take action to deal with your traumatic stress.  By taking care of your mental health and well-being, you can be more of a gentle force and better support your kids. A child’s instinct to mimic is high. If your child sees you take action to deal with the trauma’s consequences, they are likely to follow.

You may also:

Note that children respond to trauma in various ways.

Their emotions will come and go in waves. Your child may be moody and distant at times, frozen in sadness and anxiety at other times. There is no “right or wrong” way to feel about a traumatic experience, so we’re cautious to decide what your child should think or feel.

Encourage your child to express their thoughts publicly.

Let them know that any kind of feeling they’re having is natural and normal. Destructive emotions are going to arise if your child doesn’t express them. While particular teenagers may be hesitant to speak to a parent about their feelings, encourage them to talk to another trustworthy adult, such as a family friend, relative, teacher, or religious figure. It’s important to talk—even if it isn’t with you.

Could you enable them to mourn over any losses?

Offer your child time to recover and mourn any losses they may have suffered due to a tragedy or a stressful experience. That may be the loss of a friend, a parent, a pet, a home, or just the way their life used to be. Everyone grieves and heals at their own pace.

Prevent your child from obsessively witnessing a stressful incident.

Continuously holding on or replaying incident footage can confuse your child’s nervous system. Encourage games to keep the child’s mind busy to not concentrate entirely on the stressful experience. You might read to your kids, play games together, or watch an uplifting video.

As a family, de-stress.

Young children may use basic breathing exercises to alleviate discomfort and feel more at home with the environment, while older children will be able to master other calming techniques. Meditation, a walk outdoors, laughing and exercise just to name a few.

Regain confidence and security.

The way a child or a teenager looks at the world can change with trauma. Suddenly everything looks and feels dangerous and scary. Your child may find both his environment and other people more difficult to trust. By restoring the feeling of safety and security to your child, you can help alleviate the feelings of distrust and insecurity. Reassurance and embracing can help make a child secure at any age. While teens can try to make it hard to prevent them from being held back, they still feel safe with their physical affection.[4]

Promote your child to take advantage of activities.

Encourage your child to participate in activities and play with others. The distraction is good for them, and gives them a sense of normalcy.

Keep routines in place.

Setting up a predictable structure and schedule for your child’s lives can make the world look stable again. Try to keep meals, homework, and family time regularly.

Talk about the future and plan.

This can help counteract a sense that the future is frightening, dreadful, and unpredictable among traumatized children.

Keep your promises, and don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know the answer

Keep your promises. By being credible, you can help rebuild your child’s trust. Be consistent and follow what you say you will do. Avoid compromising your child’s trust in you.

Recall that children often customize situations.

Even when the traumatic event happened far away, they may worry about their safety. Relax and help your child to put the situation into context. [5]


When to look for treatment for the trauma of your child

Usually, after a crisis, disaster, or other traumatic event, your child’s feeling of anxiety, confusion, fault, sadness or despair will begin to wane in a short period. However, suppose the emotional stress response is so severe it affects your child’s ability to cope at home or school. In that case, you will need support from a mental health provider if the effects tend to stick around or even worsen over time.[6]

If the symptoms of traumatic stress don’t ease and your child’s nervous system stays inactive and cannot move on for an extended period, they may experience post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD).

Warning signs include:


  • Reliving the event over and over in thought or in play.
  • Nightmares and sleep disturbances.
  • Lack of positive emotions and feelings.
  • Intense ongoing fear or sadness.
  • Irritability and angry outbursts.
  • Avoiding people or places associated with the event.
  • Intense ongoing fear or sadness.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Your child avoids more and more memories of the stressful experience [7]