Helping kids cope after a traumatic event

Victoria Ballard was 6 when her mother was murdered by a family acquaintance.
Victoria Ballard was 6 when her mother was murdered by a family acquaintance.

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - While those who made it out of last night's melee alive, the memory of what happened will likely haunt many of them for a lifetime, especially the children.  Before they can hope to get past it, they have to grieve.

To look at these kids having fun, playing games you'd never know they're learning to grieve. They're part of RKM Primary Care's bereavement camp. Organizers say it's the first step in the process of emotional healing any child who's suffered a tragic loss must take.

13 year old Victoria Ballard was 6 when her mother was murdered by a family acquaintance.  When asked about her mom, she says, "Everyone loved her.  She didn't do anything to him." There's no way to make sense of a senseless killing. Learning how to deal with their emotions may be the only thing that will make sense for a child who's been touched by a traumatic event.

Family sociologist Marsha Norton says kids that don't get that opportunity can start to have other problems.  According to Norton, "They often develop somatic symptoms. They have stomach aches sometimes, they have headaches; some acting out in school."

Anger is one of the underlying feelings that children have who haven't begun to heal emotionally after a traumatic event.  One of the activities at bereavement camp lets kids throw water balloons at words on a paper-plate saying what makes them angry. It helps. Norton says, "What has happened is that these kids have possibly not been given a chance to tell the story of what they saw or tell the story of what happened to them."

Whether it's a loved one who fell victim to a violent act, or feeling the world is no longer a safe place, the common denominator for these kids is loss. Coming to terms with that loss and releasing the harmful feelings that go with it is what makes emotional healing possible.  Today's bereavement camp was put together by RKM Primary Care because there are so many kids in our community affected by violence.

As for your kids and the Colorado movie theater shooting, experts say it's important for parents to talk to them about what happened. If there is something that's bothering them, let them share their feelings. Reassure them, as terrible as it was, things like this are, fortunately, very rare. If they're still upset or scared to go see movies, they may need professional counseling.

Copyright 2012 WAFB. All rights reserved.