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How to help your kids deal with grief, trauma after the Oxford High School shooting

Oxford
Posted at 5:48 AM, Dec 09, 2021

(WXYZ) — Oxford Community Schools will reopen for a half-day to students and staff Friday morning in most buildings, but the high school isn't expected to reopen until after the holiday break.

Returning to school will be both a major step in moving forward and a significant hurdle for so many struggling with heartache and trauma.

I spoke to an Oxford high family and a mental health expert about the emotional path forward and how parents can support children coping with grief, uncertainty and recovery.

"I'm confused on why someone would do that. And I'm angry, and I want a reason. I want him to say why he did it," John Edwards, a 9th grader at the schol, said.

John is still processing the day of the shooting on Nov. 30 that left four students dead – Tate Myre, Justin Shilling, Madisyn Baldwin and Hana St. Juliana – and injured 7 more, including one teacher.

John and his mother, Jennifer, say the impact of the shootings is still reverberating through the student body and the community.

You drive past and you see the Teddy bears and the flowers and the candles. How can you not shed a tear?" Jennifer Caddick, John's mother, said.

Speaking openly about feelings of pain, uncertainty and grief is an important step in helping children process their own emotions, according to U of M Child Psychiatrist Nasuh Malas.

"It can be simply checking in and asking how things are going, how they are experiencing recent events," Malas said.

That needs to be a continuing process will the lost being laid to rest. Those remembrances can be vital in dealing with trauma,

"It's good to have those venues because people sometimes really do need to be with each other and do need to be together as a community," Malas added.

Some families may find it challenging to attend these types of events. Malas says that's OK, too. He says every student in the community processes trauma differently and parents should watch for signs their child is being overwhelmed.

"Withdrawal from social situations or activities that people typically enjoy. It can express itself as irritability or conflict in relationships," he said.

Physical signs include headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite and changes in sleep patterns.

"That's why I told him, if you have nightmares, I don't care. Come wake me up," Caddick said.

The impacts of the tragedy may not appear right away. They can be triggered by another traumatic event months or years in the future. It could be the return to Oxford High School.

John says it will be a surreal experience, going back to a place where his sense of safety was shattered.

"I was afraid when the entire situation was going down and it's going to be crazy going back to a place where you felt that," John said.

Malas says parents should resist the temptation to limit exposure to school or avoid returning to school altogether.

"Avoidance and not confronting the issue actually results in further traumatization and escalation of that anxiety and distress," he said.

Recovery won't be easy. It's a journey Oxford families are making one day at a time.

There is help available. You can start with your child's pediatrician. They can direct you to more resources and start you on the path to healing.

And it's not just children. Parents are suffering too.

Jennifer says she feels guilty about the sense of relief she feels that her child made it home when other children didn't