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In Wake of Shooting, Experts Say Kids May Experience Trauma

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Angels hang from a tree outside of St. Rose Church in Newtown, Conn., after the deadly shooting at nearby Sandyhook Elementary School. Angels hang from a tree outside of St. Rose Church in Newtown, Conn., after the deadly shooting at nearby Sandyhook Elementary School. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

The children who lived through the Connecticut school shooting could have trouble concentrating or become more irritable.

Moira Rynn, deputy director of research psychiatry at Columbia University, says young children may not have the ability to articulate what they're experiencing.

“[The kids] may not talk about the actual event, but they will do very traumatic type play, with their toys and their dolls,” Rynn said. “They may not talk about a specific event, but you will see them acting out dangerous things happening to the doll they loved.”

Rynn says parents should provide a safe environment for children to express their feelings, have a dialogue and stick to their routine and reach out to experts if the symptoms persist.

Judie Alpert, a professor of applied psychology at NYU, says that while children have different and varied reactions to traumatic events, many are also able to put it behind them.

“We have to expect this grieving, this inability, difficulty sleeping initially,” Alpert explained. “But in time most people are quite resilient and just get on with their lives. This goes for adults and children.”

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Comments [3]

k webster from nyc

Yes of course Carol - use whatever I've written if you find it helpful. And thank you for your comment!

Jan. 04 2013 03:09 PM
Carol Campbell from long island, new york

This horrific event has provided my undergrad college students in Psych 28 (Stress & Coping in Children & Adolescents) with plenty of real world data for our course final exam (just completed). In studying this universally significant event, my concern was for my own students' existential (conscious and un)issues; so, I set up a memorial of a candle, a list of the lost and news articles about the shooting for those who wanted to read (but I did not require it). Rather, I had them read a article from authoritative experts about how to help parents and children process this event from a developmental perspective. My students are elementary education, art therapy and psychology majors. In January, I will be teaching Psych 27 (Play and Play Therapy). I would like to ask K Webster if I may print and copy the comments as an article to share with the class on the first day of the term; and, I invite all of you who are doing play and play therapy with your students, clients and patients to keep in touch and share your wisdom. I hope that some of my students will pursue a career in play therapy and it would be wonderful for them to dialogue with professionals in the field doing this work. The loss of these children and their teachers and administrators will make us all crazy if we do not have a meaningful discussion about protecting AND reassuring children and their parents. I am a scientist as well as a teacher and a therapist; so, I am well aware of statistical incidence suggesting that our fears are unwarranted and irrational about this happening again. Nevertheless, the human mind and heart dictate otherwise. Our human nature to nurture and protect and be protected must be addressed for us to "feel safe enough", whether we are children or not.

Dec. 23 2012 12:23 PM
K Webster from nyc

After 9/11 our playgroup experienced similar reactions - children literally flying toy airplanes into dollhouses. They would play this many times and, depending on how sturdy the adults were, they would alternately laugh, yell, tremble and even cry.
If adults can remember that this is how children "work" on terrible events that they've witnessed, children can rid themselves of a great deal of the hurt from these traumas. It's helpful to remember not to "look down on" their way of shedding these awful events - a broken cookie can set off streams of necessary tears. They are quite smart in how they find "little" ways of showing - that don't bring too much adult upset. We need to pay attention, follow their lead in play and keep them close (sometimes closer than they feel they can tolerate - it's easier to feel things when near a safe person but not always fun).
I would also say from our experience, that if a child ISN'T showing signs of upset that more attention needs to be paid because that generally signals they've gone underground with their feelings. In that case we would find time to purposefully follow their lead in a long play time - not worry about what they came up with - just follow. Afterwards most of the children could find their feelings and express them with greater ease.
It's normal to be upset - it was horrific- they know that. You don't want to tamp down their upset or distract them from noticing it but we found it useful to find things that would remind them of how good the universe is. Every child's needs will be different and parents should trust their knowledge of their child to find what helps them remember the goodness of life.

Dec. 23 2012 11:44 AM

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