Adapted from Los Angeles County Department Of Mental Health
Once you have experienced traumatic event — although the event may be over — you may now be experiencing or may experience later some strong emotional or physical reactions. It is very common, in fact quite normal. for people to experience emotional aftershocks when they have passed through a horrible event. Sometimes, the emotional aftershocks (or stress reactions) appear immediately after the traumatic event. Sometimes, they may appear a few hours or a few days later. And, in some cases, weeks or months may pass before the stress reactions appear.
The signs and symptoms of a stress reaction may last a few days, a few weeks or a few months and occasionally longer depending on the severity of the traumatic event. With the understanding and the support of loved ones, stress reactions usually pass more quickly. Occasionally, the traumatic event is so painful that professional assistance from a counselor may be necessary. This does not imply craziness or weakness. It simply indicates that the particular trauma was just too powerful to manage without help. Here are some common signs and signals of a stress reaction:
The following excerpt was developed at Combine High School in the days following the shooting and distributed via list servers, web pages and handouts at programs.
Wars, shootings in schools, natural disasters, deaths at sporting events, terrorists attacksas adults we hope that these and other tragic outcomes will never happen anywhere and definitely will not impact the children and youth we care about. We would like to protect those young minds from the pain and horror of difficult situations. We would like to ensure that they have happy, innocent, and carefree lives. So what is a parent, teacher, or other caring adult to do when disasters fill the airwaves and the consciousness of society?
They probably know more than you think. The reality of today's world is that
news travels far and wide. Adults and children learn about disasters and
tragedies shortly after they occur, and live video footage with close-ups
and interviews are part of the report. Children and youth are exposed to
the events as soon as they can watch TV or interact with others who are
consumers of the news. Not talking about it does not protect children.
In fact, you may communicate that the subject is taboo and that you are
unavailable if you remain silent.
Let kids know that it is okay to talk about the unpleasant events. Listen
to what they think and feel. By listening, you can find out if they have
misunderstandings, and you can learn more about the support that they need.
You do not need to explain more than they are ready to hear, but be willing
to answer their questions.
Tell young people if you feel afraid, angry, or frustrated. It can help them
to know that others also are upset by the events. They might feel that
only children are struggling. If you tell them about your feelings, you
also can tell them about how you deal with the feelings. Be careful not
to overwhelm them or expect them to find answers for you.
Children may not be comfortable or skilled with words, especially in relation
to difficult situations. Using art, puppets, music, or books might help children
open up about their reactions. They may want to draw pictures and then destroy
them, or they could want to display them or send them to someone else. Be
flexible and listen.
When tragic events occur, children may be afraid that the same will happen
to them. Some young children may even think that it already did happen
to them. It is important to let them know that they are not at riskif
they are not. Try to be realistic as you reassure them, however. You can
try to support them and protect them, but you can not keep all bad things
from happening to children. You can always tell them that you love them,
though. You can say that, no matter what happens, your love will be with
them. That is realistic, and often that is all the children need to feel
Children often are afraid not only for themselves, but also for people they
do not even know. They learn that many people are getting hurt or are experiencing
pain in some way. They worry about those people and their well being. In
some cases they might feel less secure or cared for themselves if they
see that others are hurting. It is heartwarming and satisfying to observe
this level of caring in children. Explore ways to help others and ease
After reassuring kids, don't stop there. Studies have shown that children
also may feel sad or angry. Let them express that full range of emotions.
Support the development of caring and empathy. Be careful not to encourage
the kind of response given by one child: "I don't care if there's a war,
as long as it doesn't affect me and my family."
One important way to reduce stress is to take action. This is true for both
adults and children. The action may be very simple or more complex. Children
may want to write a letter to someone about their feelings, get involved
in an organization committed to preventing events like the one they are
dealing with, or send money to help victims or interventionists. Let the
young people help to identify the action choices. They may have wonderful
It is not enough to let children take action by themselves. Children who know that their parents, teachers, or other significant caregivers are working to make a difference feel hope. They feel safer and more positive about the future. So do something. It will make you feel more hopeful, too. And hope is one of the most valuable gifts we can give children and ourselves.