“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” says economist Paul Romer, and as the days go by after the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Conn., we see conversations begin.
Gun control, the importance of early detection of mental health problems and proper treatment, and heightened security in the schools are all on the agenda.
The question is whether those concerns gradually will fade into the background or will the dialogue continue until we find better ways of managing these problems.
When employers encounter workplace violence, they try to identify stressors that led to the employee committing violent acts. Adults who live and work with children need to be alert in the same way, identifying early warning signs. Rather than look the other way or punish or shame, those adults should intervene and get the boy or girl some help.
Particular attention should be paid to kids who experience domestic violence in the home, have parents who are using alcohol or drugs — or using themselves — and kids experiencing social or academic pressures.
Detachment, a lack of bonding and “connectedness” to others.
Withdrawal or feelings of hopelessness.
Threats of violence and making efforts to establish the means and opportunity to carry them out.
Significant changes in behavior, appearance, etc.
Disciplinary problems in school and or delinquent, criminal activity.
Unusual interest in or preoccupation with weapons, bombs and violent entertainment — music, videos, games.
Abuse of animals, suicide threats or attempts or self-mutilation.
Parents, school officials, and other youth-service providers can take numerous steps to reduce the stressors on children. Establish sincere and trusting relationships built upon regular, quality communications. Be sensitive to the stressors influencing children and provide timely intervention and support. Be alert for and promptly respond to the warning signs.
Children need safe adults in their lives. It is important to listen. It is important to talk to them honestly. It is important to seek professional help before a crisis happens.
Charlotte Lankard is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.