To help youth in particular cope with trauma, shock and the days to come, general education social worker Aliza Bracha Klein, offers advice on what parents should know about trauma, the after-effects and how to talk to your kids about what they’re experiencing.
In the wake of the Oxford High School shooting on Nov. 30 that left four students dead and seven others injured, the Oxford community and the surrounding Metro Detroit area are navigating the aftermath. Students, parents and the general population alike are now dealing with the effects of trauma, an experience — like the Oxford High School shooting — that is deeply distressing or disturbing.
To help youth in particular cope with trauma, shock and the days to come, general education social worker Aliza Bracha Klein, who works with Oak Park School District in crisis intervention and also with Jewish Family Service as a case aide, offers advice on what parents should know about trauma, the after-effects and how to talk to your kids about what they’re experiencing.
Understanding the Impact of Trauma
Some effects of trauma can present themselves right away, while others may take shape in more delayed forms that begin to appear over time. Symptoms of psychological trauma, which people may be experiencing now, can include:
- Shock, denial or disbelief
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating
- Anger, irritability and mood swings
- Anxiety and fear
- Guilt, shame and self-blame
- Withdrawing from others
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Feeling disconnected or numb
Every child will have different coping skills, Klein explains. “Not every person is going to cope in the same way that somebody else is,” she says. “These are things that we have to look out for.”
Some kids, she continues, may develop a mindset of “why me,” or of wanting to take the place of a victim. Others can develop what’s known as secondary trauma, or indirect exposure through a firsthand account or narrative of a traumatic event (such as hearing a story about the shooting through a friend).
Students in other school districts who were home from school as a result of county-wide school closures in Oakland County following the shooting might also fear the idea of going back to school.
This trauma, Klein describes, can take the form of layers. “You have trauma on top of trauma,” she says.
How Parents Can Help Kids Navigate Trauma
Encouraging kids to feel safe is the biggest step parents can take in helping their children navigate trauma and its after effects.
“Allow them to process their feelings in a healthy way,” Klein advises. “It’s important to let them know that they’re safe. Always let them talk the way they want to talk and to process emotions in a healthy way.”
Klein also recommends being patient. Because everyone reacts differently to trauma, she suggests acknowledging feelings and the events that occurred in a simple, easy-to-understand way so children can process their emotions. Sometimes, it may take time for that process to occur.
Going over safety procedures is also key to helping kids feel safe, says Klein, 36, of Oak Park. “Make sure they know what to do and that there are resources out there,” she advises.
Lastly, Klein suggests regularly checking in on your kids and how they’re feeling. It’s important to keep an eye on things like behavior, sleeping patterns and eating habits or appetite, which can change due to increased anxiety or discomfort — a sign that your child may need support.
“Even though they don’t display any symptoms, weeks or months from now they could possibly be feeling emotions from the event,” she says. “It’s really important to make sure that we continue to get kids and students the help they need to make sure we’re one step ahead of it.”
Healing From Trauma as a Community
With 28 school shootings in 2021 alone, the deadly Oxford High School shooting brought the national crisis home — and shook up the entire community. “It hit close to home, especially in Oakland County,” Klein explains. “It impacted us.”
Many people in Metro Detroit have friends or family who attend or have kids who attend Oxford Community Schools, creating just one degree of separation at times between themselves and those who experienced the shooting firsthand.
Helping kids understand the resources around them can go a long way in both preventing and healing from tragedy. “Kids don’t usually know that there’s somebody they can speak to,” Klein says. “Kids can internalize things. They have trauma; they have different things that they go through that they may not tell their parents.”
That’s why making these resources known matters. “They could be struggling alone,” she adds.
Now, as the community heals, safety and mental health are of paramount importance, especially for youth. “People are more aware about the need for safety plans,” Klein says. “People are more concerned. Parents are scared; kids are scared. This opens up a [new] topic of mental health.”