Coping After Parkland

Dr. Patty Shutt

Here we are again. Parents and their children are left struggling with difficult emotions and traumatic memories after the most recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Even if you weren’t directly impacted, you may find that emotions are running high within your household.   Anxiety, fear, sadness, uncertainty, and helplessness are all common reactions to a traumatic event. Children may have many questions about the recent tragedy – questions that can be uncomfortable and difficult for parents to answer. Moreover, children already predisposed to anxiety and depression are especially vulnerable. As a parent, here are some things you can do to help you child cope effectively:

  • Listen and allow your child to react in an authentic way. Be honest with your children and answer their questions with as much information as you are able to provide, using developmentally appropriate practices.
  • Take a news and social media break. Minimize and supervise your child’s access to media coverage. For younger children, this can be as simple as turning off the television. For adolescents, monitor their exposure and set limits on social media.
  • As much as possible, keep normal routines in place.
  • Participate in community events such as community vigils, fundraising efforts, social action projects, or faith-based activities.
  • Focus on the positive. Point out random acts of kindness and good deeds. Reminisce about a happy moment.
  • Pay attention to worsening anxiety or depression. If your child has trouble sleeping, eating, or concentrating, it may be time to reach out for professional help. Make an appointment with a therapist, or consult with your pediatrician regarding referrals to a professional. School counselors and religious leader also may be able to help.

It is especially important for parents and adults to deal with their own stress levels regarding the traumatic event. Take time to process the event appropriately and remember to model reassuring behavior for your children. Navigating tragedies effectively now will help build your child’s resiliency to future setbacks and tragedies.

If you need support or counseling during this difficult time, please reach out to Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches at 561-278-6033 or

Patricia Shutt, Psy.D., CEDS, is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and a co-founder of Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches in Delray Beach. In addition to private therapy, Dr. Shutt also facilitates group therapy, teaches meditation, facilitates an 8-week course on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and moderates specialized workshops and trainings.

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Handling a Hurricane – Tips for Parents

With numerous activities involved in preparing for hurricane season, don’t neglect to spend a few minutes safeguarding your most important asset- your children. The “unknown” can create stress for families both before and after the storm. Taking the time to prepare you young ones for the hazardous weather can save you from unwanted meltdowns.  Children who have been prepared, and whose parents handle the disaster well, have a greater ability to cope with the stress. The following are some tips to help you teach, prepare, and play-out the storm.

Teach: Talking with your children prior to the hurricane can help to alleviate their fears. Be sure to explain why people board up their homes, what goes on outside during the storm, the sounds they will hear, and the likelihood of loosing power. The Internet has many resources that can help you teach basic concepts about the weather and its effects in terms kids can understand. Try

Prepare: Make preparations for hurricane season, just as you would for a house fire or other family disaster. Create a family plan that includes home safety, your family’s needs, and emergency actions. Allow children to participate in family preparations so they may feel less vulnerable. Simple tasks for children may include checking the yard for loose material, shopping for provisions, preparing a “safe place” with supplies, cleaning perishables items from the refrigerator, assembling an activity box for the storm, and being in charge of their own flashlight. Keep your family informed of evacuations, open shelters, government aide, and storm updates.

Play-out: In addition to a little wind and raid a hurricane brings time.. and lots of it! Schools and businesses can remain closed for days after the storm as they deal with unexpected repairs. This gives you plenty of time to be at home with each other so make it a fun memorable experience by thinking outside of the box! Keep to routines as much as possible and incorporate fun activities for the downtime. Here are some ideas to start you on your way:

  • Safe Camp: To make bunkering down even more fun, allow your children to set up a tent in your safe place.
  • Activity Kit: Gather family games, art supplies, and your child’s favorite toys together for easy access during the storm.
  • Entertainment: Have your children develop imaginary products that would be useful in the storm and the act out silly commercials.
  • Daylight Advantage: Let’s face it, there is more for children to do during daylight hours. Avoid sleeping-in and mid-day napping! Have your children go to bed early and rise early so that they do not find themselves restless and bored during the evening without power.
  • Driveway Movies: If you happen to have a laptop adaptor( or built in DVD player) for the car, you can go to the movies in your driveway.
  • Fondue Fun: Think of ways to make dinner a fun experience. Fondue, s’mores over candles, and grilled fruit can be sweet dinner adventures.
  • Explore: Take advantage of those bicycles or roller-skates you have always been meaning to use.
  • Volunteer: Encourage your children to help neighbors clear their yards and make repairs. Keep track of their unpaid volunteer hours during the storm. Many schools have volunteer coordinators who keep record of your child’s hours for future scholarship requirements.

Clara Bossie, M.S., B.Ed., LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist at Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches in Delray Beach Florida.  She works with children and teens both individually and in groups, including DBT Skills Group for Teens and Pre-teens.