When Tragedy Strikes a Community

Postpartum Support Charleston knows that some of you have been grappling with the scary events that have occurred this week in our area and in Florida. 

A home invasion and abduction of a child, as well as a shooting at a school, are among a parent’s worst nightmares. We held our breath and were overjoyed that 4-year-old Heidi Todd was found alive in Alabama and will be reunited with her family on Johns Island. And we grieve for the family members of the teachers and high schoolers who were murdered in a senseless act of violence at the hands of a young man. It is our hope that these families receive the mental health support they likely need to help them through the grieving process over the next days, weeks, months and years.


You may be feeling anxious and terrified right now, as parents, at the perceived lack of safety for yourself or your children. Please know that whatever feelings you are experiencing, they are not wrong. No one can or should tell you that your feelings are wrong. Everyone handles tragedy differently. Some may feel paralyzed, and some may feel compelled to take action. Both are healthy.

What is the actual chance of risk to me or my child?


We reached out to Cynthia Lenehan, a North Charleston licensed professional counselor who works with a lot of our moms, and asked her what parents may need to hear right now. This is what she said:


“When tragedy strikes our community, especially one involving a child, it is natural that our fear mechanisms are aroused,” Cynthia said. “It's a way that we learn to stay safe, by recognizing risk so that we can take appropriate action. But, it is also important to do so with facts. We need to ask ourselves in what ways is our situation like the tragedy that just unfolded? What is the actual chance of risk to me or my child? Is there anything different I can do to lessen that risk? And, this is very important, what are the consequences of my actions to lessen the risk? For example we know that the risks of automobile accidents are real, so we put our children in safe car seats with safe drivers rather than never let them get in a car.”


In regard to the Johns Island abduction, Cynthia said that these kinds of abductions are extremely rare, and while our instinct may be to shelter our children even more, it’s important to remember that there are risks involved for children if they are not given unstructured and unsupervised playtime. As parents, especially after events such as these, we must try to find middle ground to allay our fears and give our kids room to grow.


“We know that children need unstructured playtime, they need to learn to trust people in their community, and they need to learn body autonomy,” she said. “The consequences of them not developing the skills are dire. The chances of them being abducted by a stranger are incredibly rare. Mothers need to organize their children's life around accurate risk assessment.”


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Bottom line: It’s OK to turn off the TV and disconnect from social media for awhile. The news can be overwhelming. Develop boundaries with your media consumption, such as not scrolling through your phone at night in your bedroom. Find healthy distractions such as exercise, going for a walk outside, talking with a friend, arrange a playdate or seeing a health care professional. (For more ideas, check out this insightful link.) Lean on Postpartum Support Charleston and/or professionals such as Cynthia in times like these if you need to talk. We are here for you.