As the first funeral takes place today in Connecticut, please consider some insights from Dr. Harry Croft, one of the nation’s top-ranked psychiatrists specializing in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and trauma recovery (has evaluated more than 7,000 cases), who is author of the book I Always Sit with My Back to The Wall.
His thoughts on helping children cope and moving forward:
- Coping with tragedy is both a short and long-term process. People will experience a plethora of feelings for days, months or even years before "coming to grips" with what has happened.
- For children, hug, reinforce safety, encourage communication (now or later) and LISTEN and watch the child before answering. Often it is more important to find out what they are feeling and thinking rather than to teach, lecture or dismiss their thoughts.
- Although parents may be full of heavy emotions such as anger, sadness and frustration, it is important that parents engage in some "normal" family activities. Don't spend the entire day with kids talking about the tragedy. This should be a time to focus on heroism, love, helping others and other positive emotions and behaviors even in the midst of tragedy.
- Although the 24/7 news cycle repeats these events throughout the day and night, it is important to talk to kids about the fact they are really rare (though horrible) events. It’s best to restrict viewing of TV coverage for really young children.
- During this time of confusion, uncertainty and processing information, there can be a tendency to want to "learn all the facts" about the perpetrator, as if in doing so we can figure out "why" these things happen. Usually there are no simple "whys" even when all the facts are known, and it’s best to focus on caring and empathy for those intimately touched by the tragedy, or our own family and friends.
- Although it seems like the right time to talk about things like security, gun control, violent video games or music, THIS IS NOT THE TIME to effectively engage in such activity. There is too much raw emotion, not enough known facts and not enough time to process these activities to deal with very complex and controversial issues.
Dr. Harry A. Croft (Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association) is board certified in Adult Psychiatry, Addiction Medicine and Sex Therapy, and has been in private psychiatric practice in San Antonio, Texas for more than thirty years. He is Medical Director and Principal Investigator for the San Antonio Psychiatric Research Center, where for 25 years he has participated in the development of many of the psychiatric medications which are now in use for depression and anxiety disorders. Dr. Croft's interest in PTSD began in 1973 when, as an Army physician, he served as the medical director of drug and alcohol treatment at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas at the height of the Vietnam War - an experience which paved the way for his medical evaluation, during later wars, of more than six thousand veterans with PTSD.