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Helping Children Understand Crisis and Trauma

The recent shooting incident in Littleton, Colorado has once again brought violence and crisis into the living rooms of Americans. Once again, the trauma of such events has struck at the heart of America. War and conflicts are difficult enough for all to comprehend. However, random acts of violence and human-caused mass casualties seem impossible to comprehend. They have no purpose and forever change the lives of all involved. It is incredibly more difficult when young people and children are involved and are the victims.

The victims in these cases are also those who see and hear about the events through the media. Parents and children everywhere are affected. Adults have more emotional and rational resources to help them discuss and place things in some semblance of a perspective. Children, however, are innocent and mostly do not have the ways to understand such crises. They rely heavily on significant adults and caregivers and parents to provide them with guidance. What can you as a parent, teacher, coach, or other significant adult tell your child? How do you answer their questions? How do you deal with their fears, concerns and, even their difficulty in even talking about such things?


Children fall through the cracks because there is no one committed to their well-being, in a society that is getting increasingly difficult to navigate. Research on child development and prevention of criminal behavior point to a child's need for one caring adult to consistently believe in, and be committed to, their best interests. All children need a mentor. This adult can be a parent, an aunt, an uncle, a grandfather, or a teacher. And single parents can and do provide such quality at the same rate as two parent families. There is no one family constellation that guarantees that a child will experience a quality, caring relationship with an adult.


Children can experience post traumatic stress from identification with the students who endured the violence. And you, too, experience empathy and shock for the parents whose children are direct victims.

Expression is the first step of recovery. Establish a safe environment for talking about feelings. Show your willingness to talk with your child about her feelings, but do not force her to talk. She will express herself when she is ready. Let her know you, too, are stunned and saddened. Answer her questions honestly, but do not try to explain anything you cannot understand yourself. Refrain from giving false promises, "This can never happen to you" but do convey a sense that you believe this tragedy will cause people everywhere to actively search for needed answers.

The second step in the recovery process includes being able to address or actively respond to the traumatic event. Being witness to a crime is traumatic because the witness was helpless to stop the crime. In a true sense, we are all witnesses to this tragedy, and as such need to actively respond to heal. Let her know you are deeply concerned, and will be talking with other parents and teachers about safety at her school.

Connecting with others allows us to express the shock, pain and grief rather than repress it. Children who do repress fear or grief initially, may experience delayed stress symptoms later. A pattern of sleeplessness, anxiety, nightmares, or even depression may result if overwhelming feelings have no opportunity to be released. Encourage your child's physical, creative and artistic avenues of expression at this time.

Expect your child to respond to this trauma individually, and at their age of development. Younger children will be more focused on safety alone. Older children in junior high and high school may come home debating interpretations of nonconformity and individualism. Girls may reach out more, while boys may tend towards keeping more of their feelings inside.


(Excerpted from: The Colorado tragedy: One teen's view,3476,12426,00.html

With acts of violence and aggression prevalent in so many areas, school can be an intensely scary place. School shootings, and other violent acts seem to have become a trend, and a very scary one at that. "This could very well happen right here at our school, at anytime," one of my fellow classmates said. It's scary to think, but it's true; no area or school is immune.

I don't want to think that my friends could be killed, or that I could get shot tomorrow at my school. But unfortunately, that is what it is like to live as a teenager in today's society. I understand that nothing is 100 percent safe. I just wish that we didn't have to be given constant reminders of how dangerous things have become, and how precious life really is, before we take some action to stop this senseless killing.

It is with the most profound sense of sadness that I write today's special edition. I am wishing you all, our dear friends, love and happiness and encourage, again, open communication among parents and children.

Following are a series of links to other resources which deal with children and with trauma:

Community - Trauma in the Lives of Children Brief review of Dr. Kendall Johnson's book dealing with Crisis and Stress Management Techniques for Counselors and Other Professionals

Children In Disasters Annotated links to articles on line; materials for children who have been in disasters; literature for children who have gone through floods or other natural disasters by grade levels, stress information, FEMA; health information; programs for families; and other related links.

After a Disaster: What You Can Do With Your Children Site with specific and age appropriate and developmental level information about trauma symptoms in children. Suggested activities and order information for booklets and more information. Order online. Disaster Training International - Helping Adults Help Children, Seattle, WA.

Green Cross Projects A humanitarian and service initiative of the Traumatology Institute.

Traumatology Institute - The Florida State University Certified Traumatologist Program Information on how to become a Certified Traumatologist. Offers Certification Program classes registered for CEU's with the State of Florida Board of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling, and Family and Marriage Counseling; Department of Health; Division of Medical Quality Assurance. Membership and other information about the Institute.

Rampage in Colorado Information and Photographs about Littleton, CO.

TRAUMATOLOGY-e This site is the International Electronic Journal of Innovations in the Study of the Traumatization Process and Methods for Reducing or Eliminating Related Human Suffering. - Online information and articles on Traumatology. Professor Charles Figley is the Editor.

Trauma Links This page lists resources and reference material in the area of Trauma caused by disasters and other traumatic experiences, including PTSD. There are links to a number of sites in this field as well as to a number of electronic journals.

Disaster Mental Health Resources and References On this page, there are annotated links to various Disaster Mental Health resources and links to online articles and reference lists of published articles in various areas of Disaster Mental Health, CISD, and related areas.

Parenting Skills A series of 8 sessions with ideas and recommendations about parenting skills. Each of the 8 topic areas deals with different problems.

Rocky Mountain Disaster Mental Health Conference Proceedings The Proceedings contain an overview of the contents of the 1999 Rocky Mountain Region Disaster Mental Health Conference. The Conference took place at the School of Extended Studies on the campus of the University of Wyoming from February 11-14, 1999.

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