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But those who weren’t as close to the danger may be at extra risk, too, if this wasn’t their first trauma or they already had problems such as anxiety disorders that increase their vulnerability, she said.

Right after a traumatic event, it’s normal to have nightmares or trouble sleeping, to stick close to loved ones, and to be nervous or moody, Biel said.

To help, parents will have to follow their child’s lead. Grilling a child about a traumatic experience isn’t good, he stressed. Some children will ask a lot of questions, seeking reassurance, he said. Others will be quiet, thinking about the experience and maybe drawing or writing about it, or acting it out at playtime. Younger children may regress, becoming clingy or having tantrums.

Before second grade, their brains also are at a developmental stage some refer to as magical thinking, when it’s difficult to distinguish reality and fantasy. Parents may have to help them understand that a friend who died isn’t in pain or lonely but also isn’t coming back, Brymer said.

When problem behaviors or signs of distress continue for several weeks, Brymer says it’s time for an evaluation by a counselor or pediatrician.

Besides a supportive family, what helps? North advises getting children back into routines, together with their friends, and easing them back into a school setting. Studies of survivors of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks found “the power of the support of the people who went through it with you is huge,” she said.

Children as young as first-graders can benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy, Georgetown’s Biel said. They can calm themselves with breathing techniques. They also can learn to identify and label their feelings _ anger, frustration, worry _ and how to balance, say, a worried thought with a brave one.

Finally, avoid watching TV coverage of the shooting, as children may think it’s happening all over again, Biel added. He found that children who watched the 9/11 clips of planes hitting the World Trade Center thought they were seeing dozens of separate attacks.


EDITOR’S NOTE _ Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press in Washington.