Traumatic events, such as Wednesday’s stabbing at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, can have an impact on the mental health of the local community and especially children.
Dr. Manuel Reich, a child psychiatrist in Pittsburgh, said it’s important to be honest and factual with children and speak to them in terms and concepts they can understand.
“It’s important to be prepared to acknowledge the child’s anxiety and their feelings, but to demonstrate a sense of security and safety and control over the situation,” Reich said. “Validate the child’s feelings, but present a sense of security.”
Reich said it is OK to be honest and tell a child he or she is safe, but also that you, as a parent, cannot guarantee that all the time.
Parents should be prepared to repeat things several times and offer several explanations to children. Reich said it’s more important to help the child resolve the way he or she is feeling rather than get through all of the information. So, if parents get through discussing a small part of what happened and the child feels better, that’s the goal, he said.
Reich said parents should encourage their children to discuss their feelings, but not demand or expect it. He said some children may communicate their feelings through play or drawings, and parents can use that as a way to talk to their children.
Reich suggests children should have some exposure to the media, but not too much. He said parents should explain to their children that the families and other children are being helped.
“Children will mirror your emotional state and how you feel about it. If the parent is feeling secure and unafraid, the child will feel it as well,” Reich said.
In addition to Reich’s suggestions, the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society and the American Psychiatric Association offer the following tips to help adults and children cope following a traumatic event:
- Keep informed about new information, but avoid overexposure to news of the tragedy. Be sure to use credible information sources to avoid speculation and rumors.
- You are not alone if you feel anxious, sad or alone. Talk to friends, family or peers who may be experiencing the same feelings.
- If you have contact with children, keep an open dialogue with them regarding their fears of danger. Talk about your ability to cope with tragedy and get through the ordeal.
- It is natural to experience feelings of anxiety and sadness following a traumatic event. If those feelings continue or begin to overwhelm you or your child, seek the advice of a psychiatric physician or other mental healthy professional in your local community.