It is nearly impossible for a parent to watch the horrific news of the Uvalde, Texas, school massacre unfold without thinking of their own children.
This tragedy left many parents heartbroken and struggling to figure out how to discuss it with their kids.
“A caring adult support is really needed to help children understand their feelings, their emotions, and to be able to answer those questions that kids might be asking as a result of this,” said Annette March-Grier, a 2014 CNN Hero and founder of Roberta’s House, a grief and bereavement center in Baltimore, Maryland.
March-Grier warns that a crisis like Uvalde could trigger a stress response in children from a previous trauma they experienced, and she urges parents to observe how their child may respond. Some common reactions, she says, include problems sleeping and eating, anxiety, clinging more to their parents or caregivers, difficulty concentrating and fear of going to school.
“I think this a teaching opportunity for young kids to be able to learn how to express their feelings and fears to a caring adult,” she said.
March-Grier shared some recommendations: “Hug your child. Ask them questions about their feelings. Don’t provide more information than what they’re asking. … It’s important for adults to be honest, to be truthful. Sometimes we don’t have answers as to why things happen like this.”
March-Grier also acknowledged the fear parents may feel while sending their children to school right now. However, she reminded parents that schools are working to prevent anything like this from happening again, and she stresses that keeping structure and routine in children’s lives will help them feel safe.
For March-Grier, learning how to best support young people through crises can help them grow up to be healthy individuals, mentally, emotionally and physically.
Marking two years since George Floyd’s murder
The Uvalde massacre occurred the day before the second anniversary of George Floyd’s murder.
Remembering Floyd “reminds us about the importance of humanity and how we treat one another,” says March-Grier, “and the lessons that we’ve learned about the disparities of different populations in our communities.”
She also says Floyd’s story is a reminder that there is more work to do.
“We are continuing to grow and move forward and become unified and connected. And to be able to provide more resources and support for individuals who are struggling because of the systemic disparities,” she said. “That’s the reminder as we think about George Floyd … what we’ve learned, what we’ve been able to change and how much more we still need to continue to grow.”
Coping with 1 million Americans lost to Covid-19
The coronavirus pandemic made grief universal, March-Grier notes. “If one had (not) experienced grief before, people have experienced grief today.”
With people still dying of Covid-19, she says the process of healing is far from over.
“It’s going to take a long process and much time in continuing to heal through… this pandemic and all the deaths and losses that individuals have experienced.”
March-Grier warns that news of stories like the Uvalde massacre can trigger feelings of loss and grief initially brought on by the pandemic. “You may not understand why you’re feeling what you’re feeling. But know that feelings such as anxiety, stress, and worry, and maybe even sleepless nights, may be a normal reaction.”
March-Grier’s nonprofit is expanding
In 2021, Roberta’s House Family Grief Support Center constructed a new state-of-the-art bereavement center in Baltimore.
The center allows them to host in-person support groups and serve children of all ages who are suffering all types of losses.
“Our primary concern is to make sure that no child grieves alone; that every adult and child has the necessary support to grieve and to heal in healthy ways.”