, Salem, MA


October 25, 2013

Dr. Kate's Parent Rap: Helping children process school-related violence


Communicate with the school

This is not a time for parents to be shy about communicating with the school. Schools will be overwhelmed, but if a parent has something to say, it is better that they air their concerns. Parents should remain informed through media channels but they should do so at times that their children are not exposed to the information.

Limit exposure to news coverage

Parents should monitor how much exposure a child has to news reports of any traumatic events, including the recent school violence. Research has shown that children under 8 who view traumatic and violent events on television and the Internet believe that the event reoccurs every time they view it. Children this young cannot erase violent images from their mind, once exposed to the images. Avoid discussing the event with other adults in the presence of children, even teens and tweens as they can be prone to suggestibility and strong emotions, which may hinder their quick recovery back to their typical life and routine. Once the events are discussed appropriately, avoid over-focusing on them even if children and teens try to discuss them.

Signs of trouble in your child

Most children are quite resilient and although they need to process these violent and unexpected life events, they bounce back quickly to resume their full lives.

Warning signs that a child is struggling in the aftermath of tragedy include newly developed separation anxiety, school refusal, anxiety about upcoming school or unfamiliar events, ruminations about unfamiliar upcoming events, and saying no to doing activities they would typically participate in. Other symptoms include nightmares, sleep disturbance and avoidance of routine activities. Physical signs such as headaches or stomachaches, or loss of pleasure and inability to have typical fun are also signs of difficulty processing and moving on. If these are present, ask for help from the pediatrician and perhaps counseling is indicated. All children are different, and some with recent or past trauma histories may react more strongly to unpredictable and tragic events.

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