Dealing with children’s trauma in aftermath of Las Vegas mass shooting

Deeply disturbing images and videos of the mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017 have continuously dominated mainstream as well as social media. The horrific incident in which a gunman opened fire on concertgoers, killing at least 59 people and injuring over 500, is possibly the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Some news headlines and social media platforms are even calling it the worst mass shooting in the American history, despite hundreds being killed during earlier mass shootings in the U.S.

Screaming headlines, bloody images and gut-wrenching videos are most likely to affect people both mentally and emotionally, with most individuals not even realizing the impact. Children and teens are particularly vulnerable – the images/videos can leave them traumatized and incapable of comprehending the tragic event. While parents can take measures to divert younger children’s attention away from the endless news stream, it is not easy to do this in case of middle- and high-school children since they are continuously exposed to the event in conversations with teachers or classmates.

Although parents may feel unprepared, it is important for them to initiate conversations with children to help them cope with the trauma. Robin H. Gurwitch, a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center and the Center for Child and Family Health, said, “As much as we would like to wrap our arms around our children and try to keep anything bad from getting through, it’s unrealistic that we have that ability.” For traumatized children, a severe outcome of exposure to such events may be the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Parents can look out for common signs of trauma in children

Many individuals find it difficult to avoid news coverage of traumatic events despite their disturbing nature. Research shows that typically, there is an association between stress symptoms and media coverage of traumatic events. Children/adolescents who had watched more news coverage of the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks reported higher stress symptoms compared to those who were exposed to less coverage. Similarly, Oklahoman children in grades 6-12 with higher news exposure to the Oklahoma City bombing reported more PTSD symptoms seven weeks after the incident than children with less exposure to the bomb-related news.

Parents need to look out for common signs of trauma as well as deviations from normal behavior in children. Variations in eating or sleeping habits, higher irritability and not wanting to separate from their parents are common indicators of trauma and stress. Children may also find it difficult to concentrate or pay attention. Parents must attempt to find out what children have been hearing about the shooting from their friends, teachers and others. It may be important to monitor their social media and internet activities to determine their fears and thinking patterns.

Candid discussions lead to better well-being among children

According to Gurwitch, the visual aspect of the shooting presents an ideal opportunity for parents to have candid, age-appropriate and individualized discussions with children. They can talk about safety issues and what is being done to protect children. Encouraging youngsters to draw pictures of or write letters to emergency personnel, such as first responders helps them channelize their trauma into positive actions. Children may also need additional care and attention with their homework or at bedtime.

Parents must emphasize that although the Las Vegas shooting was horrific, it was an isolated and a rare incident. They must teach children to identify accurate information and not believe everything they hear or see. Older children and teens can be guided to limit their exposure to disturbing news coverage on the television or internet. They should be made aware of the mental and emotional health impact of traumatic events. Parents should seek professional help from child therapists, if symptoms of stress persist.

Seeking help for PTSD

Without timely help, the after effects of trauma can have a lasting impact on the mental health of children. As one of the leading therapeutic boarding schools in Utah, White River Academy aims to provide the required help to teenage boys aged between 12 and 17 to recover from their mental health problems, including PTSD resulting from childhood trauma. Call our 24/7 helpline or chat online with one of our experts to know about the best PTSD treatment centers in your vicinity.

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