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Helping Others as We Help Ourselves

Helping Others as We Help Ourselves
We are deeply saddened by the death of Shinjan Majumder, one of our eighth grade students at Thomas R. Grover Middle School, and extend our heartfelt condolences to the Majumder family. As we mourn, we realize that a loss like this is difficult. Our district crisis management team offers the following information to help students, staff, and parents as we learn to cope with grief.

Helping parents help their children: Information about coping with trauma

1. Why traumas effect us so profoundly is that they shatter our assumptions that the world is a safe and fair place, that there is always some kind of meaning in life events, and if we are smart and responsible enough, we can protect ourselves and our children from tragedy.

2. Recovery from trauma means being able to put the experience behind us. For children, this means getting back to the business of being children as soon as possible and anything adults can do to provide an environment where kids can continue to be kids is helpful in trauma resolution.

3. Children often view traumas in a different way than adults do. They lack the ability to appreciate the longer range of implications of an event, especially if it was a community trauma and their own family was not personally touched. Their view of the trauma is often based on how they see the adults who are close to them responding. Younger children may be more alarmed if the adults in their life seem very upset and emotional. Conversely, children may be less impacted if the adults in their lives are calm, reassuring and supportive.

4. Children's reactions to trauma are as individual and different as one child is form another. Some children may have big reactions to small events while others may seem to react minimally to terrible things. There is no one right way to respond!

5. That children seem to recover from a traumatic event more quickly than adults is often a reflection of their ability to focus on the immediate present rather than on the past or future. Especially if they were not personally touched by the event or witnesses to it, they may be able to put it behind them and move on with their lives in a remarkably short period of time.

6. Another reason children may seem to under-react to a traumatic event is that they can only tolerate intense feelings for a short period of time. So they experience the upsetting feelings for a brief period of time, then back away from them until they can tolerate the intensity again. So what may look like denial or avoidance to us is really an example of effective coping. Parents need to take advantage of opportunities to talk about the trauma when their children present them.

7. External events may reactivate the trauma. For example, Halloween with its scary themes may bring back the fear related to a recent trauma like homicide. Young children who used to enjoy the holiday may be reluctant to participate in trick or treating, and parents might do well to come up with alternate activities that are less anxiety provoking. Likewise, T.V. shows with similar themes to the trauma may also cause distress or actual real-life events that are similar will most likely serve as reminders of the original trauma. Media attention can also replay a trauma for both children and adults. Especially during court proceedings, the media tends to replay the original event daily to remind us of any details we may have forgotten. Being prepared for these reminders, whatever their source, is the best way to cope with them.

8. Dealing with trauma is not something most of us have much experience with - it's not a "normal" parenting skill. So if you are concerned about your child's reaction or lack thereof, a good way to deal with your uncertainty is to check it out with someone whose opinion you trust. Your school counselor is a good resource as is your local mental health agency or clinic.

9. While traumas are by definition upsetting, our response to them is what makes them manageable. When events in life seem out of control, the fact that we can still control our reactions to them sends an important message to our children. Remaining in emotional control also helps us develop more effective problem-solving strategies to protect ourselves as best we can from similar catastrophes.

Some people who have trouble dealing with their feelings don't react by lashing out at others. Instead, they direct violence toward themselves. The most final and devastating expression of this kind of violence is suicide.

Like people who are violent toward others, potential suicide victims often behave in recognizable ways before they try to end their lives. Suicide, like other forms of violence, is preventable. The two most important steps in prevention are recognizing signs and getting help.

Warning signs of potential self-violence include:

Previous suicide attempts
Significant alcohol or drug use
Threatening or communicating thoughts of suicide, death, dying or the afterlife
Sudden increase in moodiness, withdrawal, or isolation
Major change in eating or sleeping habits
Feelings of hopelessness, guilt or worthlessness
Poor control over behavior
Impulsive, aggressive behavior
Drop in quality of school performance or interest
Lack of interest in usual activity
Getting into trouble with authority figures
Giving away important possessions
Hinting at not being around in the future or saying good-bye

These warning signs are especially noteworthy in the context of:

A recent death or suicide of a friend or family member
A recent break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or conflict with parents
News reports of other suicides by young people in the same school or community

Often, suicidal thinking comes from a wish to end deep psychological pain. Death seems like the only way out. But it isn't.

If a friend mentions suicide, take it seriously. Listen carefully, then seek help immediately. Never keep their talk of suicide a secret, even if they ask you to. Remember, you risk losing that person. Forever.

When you recognize the warning signs for suicidal behavior, do something about it. Tell a trusted adult what you have seen or heard. Get help from a licensed mental health professional as soon as possible. They can help work out the problems that seem so unsolvable, but, in fact, are not.

Our district crisis team is supplemented by many community resource adults who are available to talk with your children and answer their questions. Your child may have some unresolved questions that he/she would like to discuss with you. Please continue to help your child by listening carefully, not over-reacting, accepting his/her feelings, and answering questions honestly according to your beliefs.