By Mary Anne Meyers
DETROIT – Families in Michigan and around the nation may be having a tough time getting into the holiday spirit because of the school shooting in Connecticut. Doctors and psychologists say it’s common for children to become anxious after such events, even when they happen far away.
Dr. Denise Dowd, an emergency room physician, says traumas such as this one can affect children for a long time. She says children under seven years old don’t need to be watching the news coverage. “Spare them the news, at least. I mean, they know about it, clearly kids know about it. But they don’t need to be watching the TV or the Internet, especially graphic images, photographs, things like that really stick in our minds.”
Dr. Dowd says because many children will hear about the shooting at school, parents should ask open-ended questions about what they know. Give them information, she says, but not more than they need. And she says to let them know that feelings such as sadness and worry are normal, but reassure them that most schools are safe and the adults in their lives are determined to keep them safe.
Dr. Dowd says just hearing about a tragedy far away can bring about severe anxiety in some children. “Kids that are at risk, though, are kids that have already dealt with trauma in their lives, where there’s been a death in the family that’s been very, very hard, but even such things as witnessing a car crash or witnessing somebody hurt.”
She says when she examined studies on teenagers, she realized that getting them to open up can go a long way in preventing such tragedies. “And the insight that kids have was amazing to me. And the knowledge they have about what’s going on with their peers, who are the kids at risk. They’re the first ones to know that stuff.”
Dr. Dowd stresses that patience is key, especially because children react to trauma in many ways. Some may want to play more. Some close up while others may want to talk. And some may not react until much later, even months from now.