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Difficult conversations | Trauma therapist explains how parents can discuss school threats with their kids

Potentially traumatic events like school threats can affect every child differently, but common side effects might be elevated anxiety and hyper-vigilance.

TOLEDO, Ohio — The stress of being a student now extends far beyond just studying for tests and interpersonal relationships — this year, multiple threats of violence have been made at several schools in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

"They might have trauma responses if they go to a school where it actually occurred, but you can still have a trauma response even knowing that this thing can occur," Willow Center trauma therapist Sara Elias said.

For parents, talking with kids about how it's affecting them can be a tricky subject, but Elias said continuous engagement is crucial.

"They're watching you. They want to know what a normal response to an extraordinary event is. So, you've got to say, 'OK, yeah, I've felt a little scared myself,'" Elias explained.

Elias said that potentially traumatic events like school threats will affect every child differently, but common side effects might be elevated anxiety and hyper-vigilance, or being prepared for danger in every situation. Elias said checking in and talking to your child about the events, even if they aren't displaying side effects, will help a child work through stressful emotions.

"You check in on a regular basis. You know, there's when it happens, and we're all in the moment. But then, there's 24 hours out, there's 48 hours out, there's a week out, in which case some kids will need more engagement than others and that's OK," Elias said.

Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Romules Durant said he understands the trauma these threats can bring on students.
But, he also encourages parents to be attentive to their kids' behavior on social media — watching their influences so they don't contribute to the problem

"If you're seeing they're putting messaging on their phone, your child could be held liable for something they're just being silly about. So really, just staying connected with the resources your child has on hand, and making sure they're using it more appropriately as well as responsibly, and that becomes that partnership during the school day and in the household," Durant said.

Elias also warned that trauma lasts for different lengths of time depending on the person. For some, it might last for only a few minutes or a couple of days —  but for others, the damage could last well into adulthood, making talking about it now with your kids that much more important.

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