Counselors, pastors are present to help in times of tragedy
By SAMANTHA PAK
Redmond Reporter Reporter
December 21, 2012 · 9:44 AM
When tragedy strikes, the community affected must learn how to move on and heal.
But when something such as last Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut happens, the grief can reach beyond a town’s limits and can touch people all the way across the country and around the world.
To help parents in dealing with tragic news with their children, Youth Eastside Services (YES) — whose main office is in Bellevue but also has offices in Redmond and Kirkland — has posted information and tips on their website.
“In the past year, it seems we have been bombarded with stories about senseless violence,” the website states. “And while such tragedies may create worry for even the most hardy adult, the intensity and constant (coverage can) be especially confusing and frightening for children and teens.”
Tips in helping children cope include encouraging them to talk bout their feelings, acknowledging their feelings and using the news as a teachable moment.
EVERY AGE IS DIFFERENT
Bertie Conrad, a clinical supervisor at YES, said with younger children about 5-8 years old, parents should first find out what they know before sharing more information.
“If they don’t know…just give them a little bit of information,” she said.
Conrad, who worked as a school counselor for eight years before joining YES 20 years ago, said parents should stick to the basics: There was a shooting; it happened at a school faraway and the shooter has died.
Conrad said children between 8 and 12 years old will definitely have heard more so parents should discuss the facts and answer any questions, but not overdo it.
“I think these are the kids that may have a lot of questions,” she said about this age range.
When dealing with teenagers, Conrad said parents should discuss what their children need to feel safe, what schools could do to help with this and come up with a plan.
She said it is important to not let the tragedy take over and limit exposure, adding that parents know their children best — at any age — so if a child is overly sensitive, they should limit exposure more in these cases.
As it is the holiday season, Conrad said parents should also make sure they do what they normally do this time of year. This will provide a positive distraction for children.
“We don’t want this to totally affect their holiday experience,” Conrad said.
She added that another thing families could do is send cards or other mementos to Newtown, Conn., as a way to be proactive.
HELP AT SCHOOLS
At Lake Washington School District (LWSD), school counselors work with their school principals and staffs and with each other in providing student support after a tragedy.
High schools in LWSD can have up to four counselors; middle schools will also have a couple and elementary schools will have one full-time or part-time counselor who splits their time with other schools.
Dale Cote, who oversees the district’s counselors, said if something has happened at a specific school, he will work with the counselors there to assess the situation and see if they need to deploy more counselors to the site.
The most recent incident in which this happened was after the death of Jackson Roos, an Evergreen Middle School student who died in September in a zip-lining accident. Cote said everyone dealt with the tragedy differently but some students did see counselors.
“It’s a safe place for kids just to say what’s on their mind and say what’s on their heart,” he said. “(The counselors) were utilized that day, sadly, but they were.”
If a teacher or other staff member is struggling, Cote said the district provides access to professional counseling services through its benefits package.
THE NEED FOR MEANINGFUL CHANGE
In the aftermath of a tragic event, religion is also a place people may turn.
Cara Scriven, the pastor at Redmond United Methodist Church in downtown, said people will often question God’s existence and presence in the wake of such “evil.”
“As a pastor, the way I addressed them…is to look to the places where God is working in these situations,” she said.
In the case of Sandy Hook, Scriven cited the heroics of the teachers and first responders, as well as the way the community has come together since then.
She also says as Christians, it is their job to make the world better. The question is, how? After last Friday’s shooting, Scriven said it is going to take a whole list of things to make things better — including meaningful discussions about guns, mental health and violence.
“There’s not a simple answer…it’s more complex,” she said. “It’s a complex problem that has a lot of factors.”
Scriven said we may not be able to completely stop shootings, but we have to look at what we may be doing to contribute and make changes to limit such events.
ASKING FOR HELP
Conrad said everyone reacts to tragic events differently and if parents see that their children are reacting more severely, they should seek professional help.
Signs include problems sleeping, wanting to sleep with their parents for an extended period of time, an obsessive need for reassurance and a fear to go back to school.
Both Cote and Scriven agreed on seeking outside assistance.
“We may invite outside counselors depending on the situation,” Cote said.
Scriven, who offers basic counseling and can answer spiritual questions, added, “There’s no shame in getting help…We ask for help and we acknowledge that (some things are beyond our abilities).”Contact Redmond Reporter Reporter Samantha Pak at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-867-0353, ext. 5052.