Kids may take days or weeks to process news of Conn. shooting

Dec 17, 2012

Sometimes kids don’t react right away to a trauma, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need help, says a Seattle child psychiatrist in the wake of Friday’s mass shooting in Connecticut. Dr. Robert Hilt, a psychiatrist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, says we all process tragic events in different ways, and kids who learned about last week’s shooting might not say much for days or even weeks.

“And then they're starting to have nightmares, maybes it's really repetitively on their mind, crying out of nowhere. Those all could be signs that maybe they're really struggling with the knowledge what had happened in this other location,” Hilt says.

He says those are pretty normal reactions to tragedy, and he advises parents to listen carefully to their children, answer honestly and try to make them feel safe.

But some kids, he says, can get stuck, suffering recurring nightmares or displaying repetitive behavior.

“If a child is repeatedly, say, locking all the doors, where it's about safety, or checking to see where everybody is in the house all the time. That can be – you know, it looks like play, but it's really being driven by worries,” says Hilt.

Hilt says those kids could use extra attention, and parents ought to consider contacting a doctor or therapist. Seattle Children’s has published guidelines for talking to kids about tragedy (more from Dr. Hilt here), as has the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.