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Helping kids cope with traumatic events

Published: May. 25, 2022 at 5:53 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - The images of the tragic mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas can be hard to watch, but it’s important that parents understand how to talk to their children about these types of situations.

“This is a very scary thing and we see it on the news and children are going to have questions about it, just like the adults have questions,” said Dr. Sarah Wakefield, Chair of Psychiatry at Texas Tech’s Health Sciences Center.

She says it’s important for parents to address those questions early on. That allows children to return to a sense of normalcy in their everyday lives.

“What we want to do is intervene as early as possible so that we can intervene as little as possible and really help kids function well and get back to feeling comfortable and healthy in their school and home environment,” Dr. Wakefield said.

When a child appears sad, mad or scared it’s important for a parent to step in and understand their child’s mental state.

“What we want to do is facilitate those emotions and emotional responses in a healthy way,” Dr. Wakefield said. “So ask questions. ‘How are you feeling? Can you tell me what you’re thinking or what’s going on? How can I help you?’”

Those questions can be crucial in protecting your child’s mental health.

“If children are exposed to content that they don’t know what to do with, they don’t know how to handle it, it’s repetitive in nature. They can feel like they are in danger, too. That they are in danger right now, or that their lives are in danger and that can evoke a traumatic response,” Dr. Wakefield said

That’s why Dr. Wakefield says it’s important to assure your child that they are safe outside of their home.

“What we have to help our children know is that we are entrusting them to safe adults who are thinking about their safety,” Dr. Wakefield said. “That our teachers are thinking about their children’s safety and that they should listen to their teachers.”

Dr. Wakefield one great resource for parents and students is a school based program called “CATR” or Campus Alliance for Telehealth Resources.

The program was created in 2013. It started as a testable model, designed to provide mental health services to rural school districts with limited mental health resources. It provides additional screening and treatment by linking students with a board certified child and adolescent psychiatrist.

That helps councilors or parents who have a child struggling with grief to have an assessment done to find out what the best course of action for that child is.

For more on the Campus Alliance for Telehealth Resources, go to https://www.ttuhsc.edu/catr/default.aspx

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