Tips for parents whose kids have witnessed violence

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ST. CHARLES, MO (KPLR) - Children who witness violence like the shooting at Chuck E Cheese's restaurant in St. Charles Monday night may or may not show evidence of trauma.  Counselors at the not for profit Great Circle agency recommend parents watch for signs of behavior problems but don't make a big deal out of the experience.

Leslie Wiss, senior therapist at Great Circle's Edgewood School in Webster Groves, warns you can create "false memories" by talking about the event too much.
Children may not show any signs right away.  "Trauma usually develops over time and so symptoms need to be present for about 30 days before we can say it was traumatic," Wiss explained as she sat in a therapy room filled with toys to help young children act out their experiences.

"I think the way children are impacted the most is when they perceived it to be a life threatening experience for them or they perceive that it is a life threatening  experience for somebody else," said Wiss.

Symptoms can include trouble sleeping, nightmares, stomach aches and a reluctance to talk about things that would remind them of the event.  Other problems include being more irritable, having trouble concentrating, getting in fights at school or trying to avoid going to certain places.

Wiss uses specially designed story books to help small children understand the symptoms they are experiencing are caused by the trauma and are normal.  "It is good to let children express themselves and let their feelings out," she said.
She also urged parents to seek professional advice from counselors if they are unsure of how their child is reacting.

According to Wiss, such traumatic experiences can cause long term mental health issues and hurt relationships with others if youngsters don't get help.

For information about Great Circle go to www.greatcircle.org.