Children who experience a disaster — even if only secondhand — can express fear or confusion, and the adults in their lives can take steps to reassure them of their safety, according to the state Health Department.
In the aftermath of something such as the school shooting last week in Connecticut, children can exhibit a variety of symptoms.
Children age 5 and younger are heavily influenced by their parents' reactions to stressful events, according to the Health Department.
Children may worry that the traumatic event could happen again. They can be afraid to be apart from relatives and may cry more than usual. Some may even regress in behavior, such as bed-wetting or thumbsucking.
They may experience nightmares. They may become withdrawn, or, on the other end of the spectrum, they may become hyperactive.
Older children also may withdraw and have trouble sleeping, according to the Health Department.
They may be afraid to go to school, and when they're there, they may struggle to concentrate. They may feel frustrated with adults for not preventing frightening events in the first place. They may feel angry or ill.
Teens also may struggle in school for a bit, according to the Health Department. They may complain of illness. Some will compete for extra attention.
Advice for parents
But families can take steps to mitigate fears and concerns, according to the Health Department.
Adults should talk about the event with children in a clear, honest manner. Avoiding discussion can allow a child's imagination to wander. They may want to talk about the event over and over to make sense of things in their minds.
The days after a traumatic event, children need extra attention and love, according to the Health Department. Spend extra time together as a family and with loved ones. Remind them they are loved. Children can feel safer if adults tell them what's happening next so the future seems less uncertain.
Poor behavior may crop up at home or school, so encourage your children to ask for help. Keep a normal routine, which can reassure children.
Avoid frightening news reports that might bring up scary feelings again.
Families who need help can reach out to local county health departments for such resources as counseling, support and education. For more information, go to www.health.state.ok.us.