Our Chicago: Dealing with trauma following Highland Park parade mass shooting

ByKay Cesinger via WLS logo
Sunday, July 10, 2022
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Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr. Smita Gautam with the Family Institute at Northwestern University said children process trauma differently.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Nearly a week ago, a gunman went atop a building in uptown Highland Park and began shooting. The crowd below was enjoying the Fourth of July Parade.

Seven people were killed and dozens more were injured. The victims included the parents of a 2-year-old boy, a financial adviser, a doting grandfather and a woman described as part of the "fabric" of her synagogue.

It's impossible to count how many people were affected by this shooting in one way or another. But it took place at a family event. So, we know there were children, parents and grandparents who were there.

SEE ALSO | How to talk to kids about mass shootings, according to an expert

Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr. Smita Gautam with the Family Institute at Northwestern University said children process trauma differently.

Our Chicago: Part 2

"They tend to have fragmented sensory imprints of the trauma on their brain. And so its hard for them to make sense of what they saw because they process it in bits and pieces. So it's very important for the parents, for the caregivers to tell the kids in simple words what happened. They don't need to know a ton of details. They're looking for reassurance and guidance from adults," she said.

And for the adults who are caring for those children, Gautam offered more advice.

"I would ask adults to put less on their plates. You know, simple things like a regular routine, not skipping any meals, not skipping exercise, but also making room for emotions and feelings," she said. "Don't be threatened by the feelings. Feelings are not permanent. We have to make room for them. Let them process, make their way through us. And some of the ways to do that would be listening to music, making space for crying, engaging in activities that activate parasympathetic nervous system for example, slow breathing, laughing, holding hands, snuggling with your kids or your pets, going out in nature, singing, dancing. These activities all signal safety to our nervous system."