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'We’ve had a lot of practice': Mental health expert explains how families can cope with mass shooting events

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Posted at 5:59 PM, Jul 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-06 06:26:53-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Processing the images from Buffalo to Uvalde and Highland Park can be hard for adults.

“I think, unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of practice,” said Tim DeWeese, the director of Johnson County Mental Health Center.

DeWeese says while it may be hard for adults to process the reoccurring events, it can be harder for kids. There are multiple signs to look for in kids potentially having a rough time processing tragic current events, such as:

  • Fear of being alone.
  • Attention seeking behavior (e.g., trying to get into a little bit of trouble with their parents).
  • Difficulty sleeping or having bad dreams/nightmares.

However, for adults, those signs of difficulty coping could be anywhere from physical to mental.

You know, loss of appetite, complaints about physical aliments, so stomach aches, backaches, things like that and then sometimes displacing our own anger,” DeWeese said.

DeWeese says that in order for families to cope with the news of tragic events across our country in a healthy manner, it’s important that parents first talk with their kids.

“We have to make sure that we are honest and open with them and talk with them about the facts that are appropriate for their age,” DeWeese said. “Listen to what they have to say, to validate the normalcy of their feelings and their reactions. We have to reassure them that they are safe.”

DeWeese also advises that parents can help their kids cope with disturbing images and news by putting away devices to help limit recurring trauma.

“We are not just sitting in front of the TV for just hours and hours watching it because, in essence, it retraumatizes us, and so I think that we have to be really thoughtful about that,” DeWeese said.

However, for adults and families, the anxiety of being in a public space is real but increasing your situational awareness of what’s going on around you can make all the difference.

“We can be thoughtful and strategic about what we do and how we do it and how we plan for activities,” DeWeese said. “By simply doing those things, being aware, being thoughtful about it, having it in the back of our mind, that actually can help reduce our anxiety again. We need to be able to talk about it. We need to realize that it’s a natural response to what we have seen happen within our communities, but that we can manage that and we can learn how to mitigate that.”