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Addressing traumatic situations with children

Posted: 7:04 PM, May 10, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-10 20:04:45-04

The sinking feeling is all too familiar -- when school shootings or violence close to home occurs parents have to figure out how to address it, and answer tough questions from their children.

There's not one perfect way to handle it, and how to approach it often depends on a child's age and temperament.

Just this week there was another deadly school shooting, where the victims were kids. This time it happened in Denver. Emotional images of the scene filled the television and internet.

And within the past 24 hours here locally, a 16-year-old girl was shot and killed. Kenosha Police say the shooter was a 15-year-old boy who had a relationship with the victim.

Dr. Steven Dysktra who founded Milwaukee County's Children's Mobile Crisis Team, says it's important parents be calm and clear-headed in any discussions with children and teens about these incidents. Don't overly focus on the bad.

"If you're finding yourself glued to the news around the clock when one of these tragedies happens, it can be unhealthy for your kids," Dr. Dykstra said. "That can be transferred to your children."

When talking with young children, he suggests keeping things in very simple terms. Point out the helpers, not the people responsible for the crime. Also, don't force a conversation. If a child is not asking questions or wondering about a tragic current event, you don't need to bring it up.

When talking with older kids and teens, he suggests pointing out small ways we can all prevent violence in everyday life. Simple things like being kind and respectful, or walking away instead of engaging in an argument. He also suggests parents to encourage young adults to get involved in something they are passionate about, whether that be a school group or anti-violence organization.

Parents also need to know that they too should not be afraid to report any worrisome behavior.

"I've had mothers call me and say they're afraid of what their child's going to do," Dr. Dykstra said. "That's a terrible thing to have to admit to people. Noticing potentially violent behavior is tough. But the best thing to do is talk to a professional. Someone who will not overreact, but rather work with you and take you seriously. No one's going to take your child away. We're going to help try and reduce any level of violence."

The Milwaukee County Children's Mobile Crisis Team is available by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 414-257-7621.