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OHEL Children's Home and Family Services

RESPONSE TO SHOOTING IN JERSEY CITY

AND TRAGIC DEATH OF SEVERAL INNOCENT BYSTANDERS AND POLICE OFFICERS

December 10, 2019

Dr. Norman Blumenthal

Director of Trauma and Crisis Response 

Many of you may have already heard about the active shooter in Jersey City and the fatalities and injuries that have occurred. While we all join in praying for the speedy recovery of all those who have been injured and comfort for the bereaved families of the victims, these developments are most frightening to our children and need to be processed with them in a manner that is both truthful and therapeutic. The OHEL trauma team has been contacted by members of the community and have mobilized their team to provide timely assistance.

It is in this spirit that the OHEL trauma team is also presenting suggestions for ways in which these developments can be discussed and processed with children of all ages. It goes without saying that there is not “one size fits all” with trauma situations and these recommendations should be tailored to the specific child and his or her circumstances. The OHEL trauma team is also available to address specific concerns.

GENERAL POINTS:

•In today’s day and age of rapid dissemination of information, it is important the facts of this horrific event are accurately presented. That does not mean going into minute details but children’s anxiety will skyrocket if they hear one thing from one person and different version from the other.

•A realistic sense of the proximity of this danger should be conveyed. Children not in the  immediate area  should  be assured that there is no current danger posed in their locality

•As they are told  the reality of this catastrophe, they should also be reassured that we live in a country that  protects it’s citizens and that the full force of local police are leaving no stone unturned to apprehend or  neutralize the perpetrators and prevent any further harm.

CHILDREN’S RESPONSES

•All or any feelings associated with this calamity should be validated and normalized. Children need to know that this is a truly terrifying event that frightens even adults and those who are otherwise courageous and strong.

•If a child has trouble composing him or herself do not try to rationally argue away their feelings.  Either offer them physical expressions of composure (hugs, caressing) or something meaningful that they can do for the well-being of those who are hurt and the community at large. This can be prayers, charitable acts, learning and the like.  A purposeful activity is an important antidote to fear.

•Conversely, please do not be critical or angry at a child whose response seems stoic or uncaring. A cavalier disregard may be self- protective and children, like adults, differ in their levels of reactivity to charged events.

•While  it  is always hard to generalize, children who  may be most at risk to an adverse reaction  can include those who already are struggling with anxiety or depression,  an  individual  who  had been a victim of assault in the past  or has a family member or friend who  has, intellectually precocious children who are inclined to delve into matters ,  or the more brazen risk  taker who may respond with affected bravado or even joking when feeling threatened.

AGES OF CHILDREN

•Pre – school aged children (under 6) will sense the enormity of this occurrence but have trouble understanding it in a factual way. 

•They in particular will need assurances that no imminent danger is present and this needs to be conveyed with certainty and assurances evident from not only the adult’s words but his or her non-verbal communication including voice tone, body language and the like.

•Given their more confined life and exposure, children in these ages do not understand the concept of something being “rare.”  If they ask whether something like this could happen in their immediate vicinity it is probably best to assure them that it won’t. 

•Very young children are more likely to convey their fright indirectly and through misconduct, somatic complaints (e.g. stomach aches), disturbed sleep and the like.

•School aged children (6-11) possess a better understanding of the realities of this horror in terms of its likelihood and confinement to a particular locale. They can be accurately told that such random violence is rare.

•It would be typical for children this age to focus on the facts surrounding these events and even being intrigued by the adventure of police officers pursuing an assailant. Please don’t see such interest and foci as a reflection of callousness since it is a hallmark of these ages. You answer these questions accurately and succinctly

•School age children may be more prone to see such violence as purposely targeted against Jews or other persecuted groups. To  the best of  our knowledge the fact that a Jewish  and  African American  neighborhood  was  the  site  of  this particular violence was not the intent of the alleged assailants and  children this  age may especially  need to know  that.

•Adolescents are even more capable of understanding this developing news story in an accurate context.

•Cognitively capable  of  accurately imagining  themselves in someone else’s predicament, they would probably more personally resonate with  the tragic component of  these  events in terms of the bereaved families, victims’  pain,  their families’ trauma as  well  as the  horror and fright  of  those  on the scene.

•Adolescents are most prone to question justice or senselessness of innocent people experiencing such unthinkable tragedy. It is more than adequate to validate their struggle as universal and inexplicable.

THE DURATION OF TRAUMA

•Everyone affected should be aware that trauma can emerge and subside repeatedly over time and that someone could be relatively less impacted now and have terrifying recollections at a later date. 

•The first responders can also experience what is called “secondary trauma” that may emerge at a later point once the immediate crisis has subsided.

The OHEL crisis team in conjunction with local agencies are available for any further questions or clarification. Please feel free to contact us at 1-800-603-OHEL or Access@ohelfamily.org

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