Sonoma mental health professionals help children cope with trauma

Art projects such as designing a card to send to Texas or composing a story or song can be helpful for some children at times like this, Cain said, adding that if the trauma persists, parents should consult a pediatrician or mental health professional.

Gorbach said maintaining consistent routines can also help children.

“Overall, parents and guardians can provide their children with a renewed sense of security, closeness, comfort, routine and structure whenever possible, such as having the same meal and sleep times each day and night, and read stories to their children or together. [with them]“, said Gorbach. “Picture books with beautiful illustrations for young children can be soothing. Or an older child may reach out to a younger student or elderly neighbor, boosting the child’s self-esteem and soothing their sense of helplessness.

“Simple things like combing your hair, brushing your teeth, setting the table, planting seeds in a pot or in the yard, or maybe in a community garden, could help. Working with the earth is anchored and reconnects with life; it can open a conversation. One might want time, another a chance to be with others.

Doing art at home or taking an art or music class can be empowering and calming, she said, noting that healthy physical movements — like playing sports, riding a bike, dancing, walking together in nature and playing in a positive way – are examples of activities that calm the nervous system and reduce anxiety.

Gorbach recently spoke with friends in Switzerland who adopted a mother and children from Ukraine. The family had witnessed extreme violence in their homes and schools. Her friends sent in a video showing how they created as soft and loving a space as possible for the family. His friends made art with the family’s 7-year-old and the 4-year-old learned new physical skills by tackling a rock climbing wall with his Swiss “grandfather”.

“Literally one foot in front of the other, a healthy and beautiful home in the children’s lives has been created,” Gorbach said. “Within a few weeks, the children were showing less anxiety, sleeping better and socializing with other children even without yet sharing a common language, but sharing a common heart. A child with asthma breathed more easily.

Rohrer said that in addition to family and friends, schools can also help students cope with traumatic events by having a designated space for students to deal with counselors.

“And often in times of grief and tragedy, it helps to have something to do to direct our pain to something meaningful,” she said. “Schools could help direct efforts towards creating messages or letters, participating in some sort of advocacy, or perhaps planning a fundraiser or event.”

Peter Hansen, teacher of video arts and advanced video productions at Sonoma Valley High School, said the school provides very helpful resources for students.

“Our students at SVHS have a wide variety of options for dealing with emotional trauma,” he said. “We have therapy animals when needed, specialist counseling services and of course the wisdom of their trusted teachers to help with the process.

“Teachers have an instinct, an innate desire to nurture and protect, which manifests itself in times of stress, grief or fear. We simply flip the switch from instructor to mentor and give the students who need it most the time and space they need.

Hansen added that SVHS is tackling the recent trend of traumatic incidents with long-term solutions such as a wellness center, staff training and specialist counselling.

Dennis Houseman, head of the SVHS physical education department, said he spoke with his students about the Texas massacre.

“I think school shootings have such a negative effect on students who think schools may not be safe,” he said. “I want students to feel that schools are the safest places. I sat down with my students and reminded them that I admire them and care about them all. I said, ‘I don’t always agree with all your actions and the words you choose to use, but I admire you and care for you all.’ Students need to know that the adults in their lives care about them.

Rohrer stressed the importance of the community in helping not only children, but also adults, to cope with such traumatic events.

“Early in my career as a therapist, I was part of a county program that responded to local tragedies where I witnessed the healing power of a community coming together,” she said. “I learned the immense value of listening and keeping space for all the difficult emotions and reactions that come with grief. It helps to remind people that their responses are normal; meaning anger, sadness, confusion, disbelief, numbness, depression, apathy, fear, and anxiety are all common experiences.

“I encourage people to take the space they need to feel their emotions without judgement, and to remember that their bodies won’t give them more than they can handle. It’s essential to lean on our supports and to be kind to ourselves. Each person I meet teaches me something more and I am constantly in awe of the resilience of individuals, regardless of the level of difficulty or significant pain.

Contact the reporter, Dan Johnson, at