Children Should Be Given an Opportunity to Share Their Feelings Says UCSF Child-Trauma Expert
After the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that took the lives of 20 children and 6 adults in December of last year, UCSF Child-trauma expert Patricia Van Horn shared her advice for parents and teachers for dealing with the aftermath of a tragedy.
Van Horn, who is the associate director of the Child Trauma Research Program at UCSF-affiliated San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, believes that rather than attempting to shelter kids from tragedy, parents and teachers should provide them with the facts and explain things to them in an age-appropriate manner.
“Parents should give their children an opportunity to express their feelings about what happened,” commented Van Horn in a UCSF news release.
Aside from receiving parental support at home, Van Horn believes that children should also be given a chance to share their feelings at school in group settings under the supervision of a teacher or counselor.
In this way, children can discuss the incident and their feelings together without dwelling on the gory details and violence or becoming fearful about it as they might if they were to discuss it after hours amongst themselves.
“The risk is that kids can get their peers more and more aroused and it becomes a group contagion, generating more fear and alarm,” she says.
“Teachers can give children opportunities to express their feelings by talking about them or by drawing. Some classrooms of children might be helped by doing something proactive such as, for example, writing sympathy notes.”
Of course, most children will never have to endure the trauma that the students of Sandy Hook did, but Van Horn’s advice could prove to be valuable to teachers dealing with the aftermath of any dramatic event in a child’s life; be it the death of a loved one, an accident they were involved in, or even something they heard about indirectly and are feeling anxious about.
Van Horn points out that just because an incident may have occurred far away, doesn’t mean a child won’t hear about and won’t be affected by it.
“The further away we are from the incident the more tempting it is to just ignore it,” she says. “But some parents don’t do as good a job at filtering and sheltering kids from the news and then kids go to school and they talk to each other.”
Van Horn also emphasizes the importance of schools and parents staying in close communication after a traumatic event in order to keep parents informed of safety practices and policies at school, and also to spot any warning signs that a child might be traumatized.
Click here to read more about how emotions affect learning.