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Tackling trauma with your kids: “Being able to talk about it is important”

(WKOW) — Southern Wisconsin has been dealt its share of traumatic events recently: flooding, fatal explosions in Sun Prairie and Cambria and an active shooter at a Middleton company.

For adults, seeing or hearing about these things can be difficult, but they can also have a profound effect on children, whether they happen close to home or far away.

But if you’re a parent and your child wants to talk about these difficult subjects, what do you say?

For Alexandra Herrmann, conversations like these can be tough but she knows they’re important.

When 13-year-old Jayme Closs went missing, Herrmann knew she had to have a conversation with her 13-year-old daughter Taylor about it.

“I was scared because the girl was the same age as me and I just didn’t want that to happen to me, ever,” Taylor said.

“It came across on the TV and it came across on my phone so it made a loud noise,” Alexandra said. “Taylor was like, ‘what is that?’ It flipped a switch and I said, ‘well here’s another example that I should just sit down and talk to her about.”

Kids across the country are expressing anxiety and concern about serious political, societal and environmental issues. Dr. Allison Craig is a pediatrician with Group Health Cooperative. She said when kids come in for check-ups, she talks to them about what’s going on in their world.

“I’ve had in the past month kids mention to me things like flooding and hurricane and climate change,” she said. “They’ve been mentioning active school shooters, lock downs and drills. They’ve also been talking about some of the people they care about in our community. Some of their friends and family members who are immigrants and their treatment.”

She said kids who may have been affected by a traumatic incident may change their eating or sleeping habits, the way they express their emotions or they might be refusing to go to school.

In extreme cases, children may be having persistent worries, fear or stress it’s best to reach out to a licensed therapist.

Sharyl Kato is a licensed therapist for children and families at the Rainbow Project in Madison. She’s also the center’s executive director. She said when children experience any sort of trauma, they view the world differently.

“When that trust is broken, then reassurance is always important. It’s important to be honest with your feelings but not to burn them,” Kato said.

Most importantly, Kato said parents should know how they feel about certain subjects.

“We all have different styles of coping and pacing of how we cope and so one might be withdrawn, another parent might be absorbed,” Kato said. “That affects the child in terms of, ‘oh, is this an okay topic to talk about?'”

Kato also said parents should be open to talking about difficult subjects.

“In every way in every circle, whether it’s with parents at home, or at school or in the community, that opportunity about being able to talk about it, is really important,” she said.

Kato suggests these other tips if your child is going through a traumatic incident:

Jessica Porter

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