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Watching your kids’ reaction to mass shooting

How to know what’s normal vs. what requires professional help

CHICAGO --- Is your child now afraid to go to the beach or the grocery store? What symptoms in children and teens after mass shootings — most recently the July 4th shooting in Highland Park — are normal and what symptoms require professional help?

Stewart Shankman, chief of psychology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, tells how to discern your child’s behavior.

To interview Stewart Shankman, contact

Shankman: “Kids feeling sad and frustrated about this situation is totally normal. It’s good for them to talk about it.

“Going to a Fourth of July parade is normally such a wholesome, happy experience. To have that disrupted by a mass killing is especially disturbing. Older kids might have a greater tendency to generalize from this experience and carry it into other things in their lives. Can they go to the store, can they walk around downtown? They might feel helpless and scared.”

Seek help when fears interfere with functioning

“The big question is are these fears interfering with their functioning? It’s one thing to be cautious when now going to the store, but are they refusing to go to the store, their sporting activities, the beach or the pool because of their fears? It’s healthy to ask, ‘Hey, Dad or Mom, is it safe for us to go to the pool?’ but if they refuse to go because of fear of being shot, that’s when a parent needs to seek treatment for them.

“If it’s something they are perseverating on nonstop, if it’s all they talk about for weeks on end, that’s when you also need to seek treatment. It’s not about what they are saying but the duration of what they are talking about.

“Other symptoms may include trouble sleeping, racing thoughts or shutting down emotionally. They seem emotionally blunted. They don’t get as excited about going to the beach or sports activities or watching a favorite TV show. That’s a symptom of depression, which can be a reaction to trauma.”

Choose a therapist with evidence-based treatment

“Make sure there is research supporting the type of treatment your therapist provides. People should be informed consumers of treatment. Ask if your clinician is aware of what the research says regarding how to treat your child’s particular problem.”