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How To Talk To Children In Age-Appropriate Ways About Trauma

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Talking to children and teens about trauma varies by age level. There are still resources available for those in South Florida affected by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who may be having a hard time - especially around the holidays.

Dr. Judith Aronson-Ramos is a developmental and behavioral pediatrician from Parkland, with an office in Coconut Creek. She has been involved with community health care issues since the 2018 shooting at Stoneman Douglas through the education and resource group  Professionals United For Parkland. She sits on the board.

WLRN spoke with Dr. Aronson-Ramos about how to talk to different age-levels of children about difficult events, after middle school students were brought into a Nikolas Cruz hearing this week on a field trip in Fort Lauderdale.

WLRN: What's the best age appropriate way to prepare a child for these potentially traumatic events?

ARONSON-RAMOS: There's many people, regardless of age, for whom that setting could be upsetting. There are other children who they may not feel any particular upset.

What's traumatic for one child may not be traumatic for another. 

What should adults, parents or teachers keep in mind when deciding what kids are exposed to? 

What is an emotional trigger for children? Right now, school shootings are so epidemic in our country that anything around the topic of school safety can be triggering for a variety of children.

What are the risks of exposing children to trauma above their age level?

There is a concept. It's called vicarious trauma. And that's where even though you weren't part of, or party to an actual traumatic event, just descriptions of it, stories about it, talking about details of it can cause trauma to that person. That can happen to an adult or a child.

Children under the teen years, 14 and under, you know, it can be pretty hard for them to differentiate what is a risk for me, versus at risk for society at large. You can discuss things with your pediatrician...any therapist in the community.But we live in an age where there's traumatic events happening on a very regular basis. It just becomes overwhelming - and kids are more prone to that.

Additional resources for trauma can be found at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Caitie Switalski is a rising senior at the University of Florida. She's worked for WFSU-FM in Tallahassee as an intern and reporter. When she's in Gainesville for school, Caitie is an anchor and producer for local Morning Edition content at WUFT-FM, as well as a digital editor for the station's website. Her favorite stories are politically driven, about how politicians, laws and policies effect local communities. Once she graduates with a dual degree in Journalism and English,Caitiehopes to make a career continuing to report and produce for NPR stations in the sunshine state. When she's not following what's happening with changing laws, you can catchCaitielounging in local coffee shops, at the beach, or watching Love Actually for the hundredth time.