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  • Writer's pictureKara Kohnen

Secondary Trauma - School Shooting Guide for Parents

Secondary Trauma occurs when vivid images and sounds of violence and harm, such as news reports of the school shooting in Nashville, earlier this week which enter our brains. Listening to traumatic events can still be processed in our nervous systems as if threat as if it was happening directly to us. Teens and children are particularly vulnerable to this as their brains are still developing and it can challenging to work through.

Signs of secondary trauma:

Sleep concerns: including nightmares, insomnia, oversleeping

Physical problems: stomaches, loss of appetite

Behavioral: Irritability, aggression, depression, anxiety, mood changes quickly, refusing to go to school

Substance Abuse: as a way to check out

Clinginess: Especially if this is a change after the traumatic event

Here are ideas on how to have these conversations and help them process secondary trauma.

1. Start with finding out what they already know and working on any misinformation.

2. Let them take the lead and ask open-ended questions to understand what they are thinking and what they want to know. Youth have different perspective than adults so it may be very different from your own reaction.

3. Use age-appropriate language for complex feelings they may not understand and normalize the duality of mixed emotions and how confusing this can be.

4. Focus on the bigger picture and it may be helpful to understand context and the background happening prior to the tragedy. Understanding history my provide so relief.

Parents: be honest and direct without minimizing or sugarcoating. The more you can “keep it real” the more they will feel you are authentic. They will trust you more in future. Also, let them know they are not alone and it’s hard to process disturbing and violent things at any time. Consider starting your own reactions to a degree to help support knowing how they feel.

In the days and weeks following any trauma or secondary trauma please keep checking in and talking about it especially if your child or teens still appears stressed. Provide an open door for them to come to you at any time. Irritability can be sign of stress. Focus on positive support and doing activities they enjoy and “not talking” as well!

Communication and connection are the lifelong relational strategies for parents to continue to foster positive mental health in their children and teens when difficulties in life arise. Seeing a quality therapist who works with youth and families can help build back and broken bridges and make a world of difference for child who may be suffering unnecessarily.

If you are concerned about your child or teen, please know there is no such thing as too young to get help and early intervention prevents problems and saves lives. If you are seeking resources for yourself or your family in California, please contact our intake team today 619-549-0329 ext 0 a we have appointments with talented therapists this week and can provide you this support. For more information visits us as

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