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Uvalde school shooting is another reminder of children's feelings of trauma


So how does the Uvalde community recover, especially its children? Some were eyewitnesses to the killings of their classmates. Some were hospitalized with injuries. All are processing this attack. For help, we've called on Dr. Melissa Brymer. She is director of terrorism and disaster programs at the UCLA-Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress. Good morning.

MELISSA BRYMER: Good morning. Thanks for having me today.

FADEL: Thank you for being here. I mean, as we just heard, this is a community reeling, grieving. We've been hearing this morning how kids heard the gunfire. One child told her aunt she thought she was having a heart attack. What do you tell a child when their sense of safety is shattered like this?

BRYMER: Well, there's different kids that are experiencing different things right now. So in this case, we have some kids who were there and present. So we do need to - even though they were present, they might have been in hiding.

FADEL: Yeah.

BRYMER: They still might have questions. So it's really important as we hug them, give them some space - check in with them and ask them what are they feeling, what did they witness and provide them support. Having physical reactions like the tummy aches or the heartaches is - it's common. And so we need to help kids to calm their bodies down right now.

FADEL: So what would you tell parents, caretakers about that kind of support? What should they be doing when they see signs of trauma?

BRYMER: Well, first and foremost, it's important that - as hard as it is, that we tell kids the truth. So sometimes as adults, we need a minute to process what happened ourselves. Think about those words that we will say to our kids, and then have that conversation. If a child is worried about what happened to one of their peers, we need to be honest about it. Give them comfort afterwards. If they are expressing some of the sadness and grief, we might have to help them with honoring that loved one. These conversations take time. We need to be patient. And sometimes especially young kids need to have these conversations over and over, and sometimes they need it in little chunks. They might not be able to digest everything in one sitting.

FADEL: Right. And you said that sometimes kids might have tummy aches and other things. What should parents, community members be looking for? What are some other signs that might manifest?

BRYMER: Well, we know another sign that often happens is that kids' sleep is disrupted. They may not want to sleep by themselves over the next couple of days and might - even if they are teens, they might want to stay close to their family members. So families might have to adjust the family routine, whether it's having a family sleep for a week or so or giving extra time at bedtime so that we calm their anxieties. Some kids might start to be a little bit worried about loved ones separating from them.

FADEL: Yeah.

BRYMER: And we need to talk about those safety concerns. Young kids, there's some really good books out there to have those conversations. One book that I love that a colleague of mine created is "Once I Was Very Very Scared," and it's - with animal books, animal characters, and the animals have different feelings. And we can have the kids point to those feelings, but also help to find ways to cope, and each of the animals have different ways of coping. And that book, you know, you can get it online for free in English and Spanish and other languages.

FADEL: And what should school districts be doing right now in the wake of this attack?

BRYMER: Well, we know that our educators are also impacted. So they need their time and space to process what happened. And we need to make sure that mental health services are provided to our educators. But we're at the summer vacation for a lot of the schools in that area, so we need to actually think about planning and preparing for those summer youth programs that are out there and making sure that those youth leaders are trained in some of these trauma reactions and make sure that they're supporting our youth. And then we have to gear up to next year and make sure that there's proper services and programming for our educators as well as our kids.

FADEL: Dr. Melissa Brymer is director of terrorism and disaster programs at the UCLA-Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress. Thank you for your time.

BRYMER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.