Family therapist advises parents on how to help children cope with traumatic events

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Recent traumatic events that have seen young adolescents turn to violence underscore the troubling, ongoing trend of mass shootings plaguing the nation.

On Thursday, a jury recommended that the Parkland school shooter should not be sentenced to death. Instead, Nikolas Cruz faces a life sentence without the possibility of parole. On Thursday night, police said a 15-year-old opened fire in Raleigh, North Carolina, killing five, including an off-duty police officer.

The constant chatter and reporting of recurring events like this can take a toll on anyone, including children.

Kevin Petersen, a licensed marriage and family therapist at the Chronic Hope Institute, agreed there was a lot to process over the past week and said people may be reliving some of the same feelings and concerns they had before.

“It reopens the wound. The trauma of the first event is stored in our brain – much like a file in a filing cabinet, and it’s locked away,” Petersen said.

TIED TOGETHER: The child psychologist explains the surge in young mass shooters after the recent shooting of a 15-year-old in North Carolina

Petersen said it’s important to understand the symptoms of anxiety after such events. Some symptoms include racing thoughts, abdominal pain, trouble sleeping, and hypervigilance.

Petersen suggested parents or guardians reassure their children by speaking to them on their level when discussing these violent and traumatizing events. He said it’s best to ask open-ended questions like “Do you feel safe at school” and “What can we do to help you?”.

It is always important to show children that they are not alone in their feelings.

“Share your reactions. Let them know you share the same fears and concerns,” Petersen said. “You don’t want to overwhelm them, but you want them to understand that it’s okay. The big goal is to offer them help and then normalize asking for help.”

Petersen said one of the most important things is knowing when enough is enough. Don’t be afraid to limit children’s exposure to these types of events on TV and social media, and let them know you’re ready to step in and help.

“Put your arms around them and tell them you love them, that you’re there for them and to know that you can always help them process this and work through it,” Petersen said.

Petersen also said families should never write off therapy as an option because finding a trauma-informed therapist who understands the different types of therapy is crucial.

“It really helps reduce the pressure on the nervous system and gets people out of the fight-or-flight-or-freeze environment,” Petersen said.

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