NORMAN — In an effort to help local children process their emotions in the wake of tornadoes on Sunday and Monday, the University of Oklahoma’s Center on Child Abuse and Neglect is offering a mental health clinic.
The clinic, a part of OU Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City, is specifically designed to help children work through difficult emotional trauma associated with a natural disaster. For more information, call 271-8858.
Susan R. Schmidt, associate professor of research at the center, said children and adults often develop immediate emotional or behavioral reactions after traumatic experiences. These reactions often subside over time without needing professional intervention.
“Children whose reactions are impacting their daily life up to six weeks or more after the tornado may benefit from a trauma-focused assessment by a qualified therapist to determine if treatment is needed,” Schmidt said.
Parents should watch for these reactions to help determine if professional attention is needed: worry about own safety or the safety of others; sensitivity to loud sounds or other reminders of the tornado; avoiding people, places or other reminders of the tornado or aftermath; physical symptoms like stomachaches or headaches, reduced appetite, bad dreams or sleep problems; strong, overwhelming feelings and/or frequent mood changes; increased activity level, decreased concentration and attention, and changes in school performance; increased irritability, defiance and angry outbursts; changes in activities; return of past behaviors like trouble separating from parents, bedwetting, baby talk or tantrums; and increase in teens’ risky behaviors.
Parents can assist their children by focusing on listening, protecting and connecting, Schmidt said. Parents should let children know they are willing to listen and answer questions.
Re-establishing routine, communicating with children about how they are safe and limiting event media exposure can help children feel protected. Connecting children with people such as family, friends, community support organizations or mental health providers, can help.
Schmidt said Oklahoma Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and National Child Traumatic Stress Network websites contain useful information for parents helping children process trauma. Visit the respective websites at oklahomatfcbt.org and nctsn.org.
Schmidt said parents should not neglect their own personal mental health.
Schmidt suggested parents wanting to learn more about adult trauma and effective treatments visit the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder website, ptsd.va.gov/
Parents seeking information on qualified adult trauma treatment providers can call the 211 helpline or visit the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services website at ok.gov/odmhsas.