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Durango therapists offer tips for supporting traumatized children

Normal routines, limiting exposure to crisis can help

Parents should trust their gut in dealing with children who are experiencing traumatic events, said two consultants with Pediatric Partners of the Southwest.

Other helpful practices would include efforts to maintain a normal routine, provide age-appropriate support and age-appropriate communication about traumatic events and parents should be prepared to offer consistent reassurance and help for traumatized children over time, said Anne Maurer and Liv MacKenzie, behavioral consultants with Pediatric Partners of the Southwest.

“It’s normal for kids to ask a lot of questions, to be worried about their safety,” Maurer said Thursday evening after a school shooting at Aztec High School left three people dead, including the shooter.

Parents should be prepared to be persistent in offering reassurance and be prepared to have conversations about a child’s safety numerous times after a traumatic event, she said.

In addition, parents should trust their gut, and if they believe they need professional help in their efforts to comfort and support their child, they should not be shy in seeking help.

“We’re comfortable if people call for help, and we will support them if something like this happens,” Maurer said.

While therapy is not offered at Pediatric Partners of the Southwest, the office does provide short-term interventions and directs people for proper therapy, Maurer said.

MacKenzie said parents could expect to see their children dealing with nightmares, upset stomachs, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, long bouts of crying and a fear to go to school.

“You should pay particular attention to kids who are already struggling with anxiety. This might trigger those feelings,” MacKenzie said.

Carrying on with the normal routine is helpful in restoring a sense of security, they said.

Even people outside of Aztec might be affected by the trauma of Thursday’s shooting.

“This was a community trauma, and there are interventions that can help,” MacKenzie said.

Maurer said it’s OK for parents to turn the television off to limit a child’s exposure to a traumatic event.

“Meet as a family for dinner. Get away from the situation. Create a safe home,” she said.

Kristin Polens, clinic director at Pediatric Partners, said it’s also important to remember that younger children might not have the verbal skills and development to convey their needs.

“Parents must realize they need to advocate for their children. The need to realize they need to help put words into action,” she said.

parmijo@durangoherald.com

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