Help children deal with recent mass violence

Crime victim advocate offers parents and adults tip on talking to kids

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 

On the Web

The National Association of

School Psychologists:

http://www.nasponline.org/index.aspx

The National Child Traumatic

Stress Network:

http://nctsn.org/

The Clackamas Town Center shootings. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. The stabbings at a primary school in central China.

How do you talk to children about these recent episodes of mass violence?

As traumatic events differ from everyday stress in both intensity and duration, they can make a lasting impression on children.

Brenda Huffstutler, crime victim advocate for Lutheran Community Services, spoke Friday night about ways to support children and help them cope after exposure to trauma.

"We as adults are better equipped to cope with these events," Huffstutler said. "Children don't have the regulation abilities we do."

Children, she said, can become frozen in the moment and relive traumatic events over and over again. Those kids who were actually there, at school or at the mall, will likely suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, Huffstutler said.

Mass violence, however, becomes experienced and known by collective society. Regardless of whether you were there, the events impact how you feel and what you do. For those who have heard the reports and seen images of the tragedies, Huffstutler outlined ways for adults to support their children as they come to understand what's happened.

All adults should …

• Model calmness and control: Avoid showing any feelings of anxiety or fear; children take their emotional cues from adults.

• Reassure children they are safe: Remind children of the loving adults in their lives and other resources that make insure the safety of their community

• Tell children the truth: Adults shouldn't avoid talking about traumatic events. Kids are smart and will find out about them. Children look to adults for answers about what's occurred and what it means. "We are their Google, basically," Huffstutler said.

• Stick to the facts: Don't embellish the story or speculate on how it happened.

• Keep answers age-appropriate: Younger children will need a simpler explanation of what happened, while teens will have a stronger opinion on the events.

• Monitor your own stress level: You'll be better equipped to support children if you're emotionally stable and physically healthy. You can tell kids that you're sad, but remind them to look forward, toward a positive future.

Parents should …

• Make time to talk: "If we don't talk about it, someone else will," Huffstutler said. Take some time to figure out what you're going to say.

• Stay close: Your physical presence and affection will reassure children and help you monitor how they're doing.

• Limit media exposure: Let kids watch news castings for a short time, but don't re-watch the events over and over again. "They don't have that ability to break away and say 'OK, that happened in the past,'" Huffstutler said.

• Keep a normal routine: By going about your daily activities, it shows kids that life goes on and keeps their thoughts engaged in something positive.

• Spend extra time with them: Doing enjoyable, calming activities before bed, such as reading or doing a puzzle, can help kids feel secure. If they need to sleep with a light on, let them.

• Protect your children's health: Stress takes a tole on children, just like it does adults. Make sure your kids eat well, exercise and get enough sleep.

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; http://twitter.com/col_cops; patty.hastings@columbian.com.