Mind Matters: Helping children cope

Here we are again, revisiting how to help children cope with yet another school shooting. Children, whether they be toddlers, teens, or even in their 20s, are affected by such violence. Parents and families can help them feel safe. The American Psychological Association, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network are a few of the organizations that study and disseminate information regarding violence and its effects upon children.

Take note that children are emotional barometers for whatever is happening in the family and the parents. Children may not be able to verbally express their feelings, but their behavior mimics the prevailing feelings in the household. If there is anxiety, tension, anger, depression in the family environment, children absorb these feelings. Young children’ behavior can be a mirror of family dynamics.

With that in mind, parents can recognize the importance of being role models to their children and as parents learn to cope with their feelings in healthy ways, so can their children. Parents need to take news breaks as well as the children do. Self-care is important. Take walks alone and with the kids; remember to play.

In his program, Mr. Rogers would remind us all to pay attention to our feelings and express them in healthy ways. The APA recommends talking with your children, and most importantly, listening to them. How and what you talk about depends, of course, on their developmental age, but everyone — including the oldest adult — wants to be heard. Look for opportune times when children feel most at ease to talk — perhaps while riding in the car, or at dinner or bedtime. Try not to interrupt and try to take in their point of view. Without judgment of theirs, you can express your own perspective.

Children want home to be their safe-haven. Let them know with words and actions that you are there to “provide safety, comfort and support.”

After a traumatic event, both children and adults may experience a gamut of emotions — fear, anxiety, grief, shock, and so on. Both children and adults have physiological reactions too, such as difficulty sleeping, or eating, or concentrating. Older children and adults might find it helpful to journal their thoughts and feelings. Doing a free write of worries for just twenty minutes a day can provide immense relief. Art is another great way to release pent-up emotions and small children love to color and draw.

Like adults, adolescents may find relief, especially to grief, by taking action that provides a sense of self-efficacy. The Parkland, Fla., teenagers responded to the mass murder of 17 of their fellow students and teachers by staging demonstrations for gun control. Their action has prompted other adolescents to do likewise. Throughout history, people have taken action after tragedy, trauma, and injustice. Sometimes this action has actually changed history’s course.

Information is taken from:

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About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.

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