Trauma impacts children’s mental health following the tornadoes

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – People in the community are still struggling both mentally and physically following the disastrous tornadoes of December 11.

But children understand and process tragedy a little differently from adults.

Losing your home, losing a friend or family member, or even just seeing people around you grieving losses can all cause a trauma response in a person’s mind.

Local children were back in school this week and some sat next to empty seats where students killed in the tornado once sat.

Others came to school from a hotel room with next to nothing after the storm destroyed their homes.

Those kinds of traumas are not to be taken lightly, especially in young children.

For the Warren County Public Schools, mental health has been taken very seriously and options have been made available to students who need to talk to someone.

“A lot of students are anxious, talking a lot about the weather and [have a] preoccupation with the weather. For those who lost their homes, there’s a lot of worry about being safe and at home, being safe in a house. Decreased appetite, difficulty getting sleep, a lot of anxiety, just seeming more emotional, maybe complaining of stomach aches, those are some of the common things that we’ve seen,” said Lindsey Young, a district health counselor for Warren County Public Schools.

A psychologist, Alissa Briggs, for the University of Kentucky Adolescent Medicine is addressing the issues of trauma in children.

She says a natural response from a parent is to try to fix things for their kids, but that isn’t always a possibility with something like trauma.

Instead, Briggs says, take time to understand how your child is feeling.

“Explain to the kid that their feelings make sense and empathize with them. ‘This was really scary. I get why you’re feeling this way. That has to be really hard.’ And so, I think just validating them and being with him and with their emotions is really important,” said Briggs.

According to Briggs, some children may not feel like talking about it, and that is okay.

She says some children will open up while playing with playdough or drawing and some would prefer to write down how they feel and pass notes to their parent to help process the trauma.

Briggs says those signs could mean a deeper psychological trauma if they continue on for a long period of time.

“In months down the line, when we kind of move away from the period of time when those tornadoes hit, if a kid is not moving away from that immediate trauma and grief reaction, then we become more concerned about traumatic grief or post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Briggs.

Right now, typical trauma responses could appear as nightmares, changes in eating habits, changes in sleeping patterns, irritability or even what may seem to be flattened emotions.

That is normal.

If your child wants to speak with a professional following the shock of the tornadoes, you can request a counselor on the Warren County Public School’s website or call your child’s school to be connected.