I offer my deepest condolences to those killed, families and friends impacted, and the community of Aurora, Colorado, over the catastrophic shootings and the tragic loss of life. Let us hope for the full recovery of those who were injured and that the healing process can begin.

Although it may be days or even weeks until we have a better understanding of what may have precipitated this tragic event, we do know that the Aurora event will impact many communities, families and individuals across the country. Security is often heightened and as we have seen over the past week, there is extensive media coverage about the event. During these times, it is natural for people to feel fearful – children and adults alike. This got me thinking about how such events impact children.

Children are naturally inquisitive. Children may ask questions about the event and may even exhibit fear, particularly when witnessing heightened emotions displayed by others. Some parents may struggle or be unsure of how to respond to their children. Developmentally, children may not be able to differentiate between a traumatic event that happens in another community and their own personal sense of safety and well-being. Emotional reactions such as confusion, denial, fear, sadness, guilt and anger are not unusual in a person dealing with a catastrophic event.

Any situation or event that leaves you feeling emotionally overwhelmed can be traumatic. The experience can either be direct or indirect. It doesn’t necessarily have to include physical harm. Emotional and psychological trauma can be caused by experiencing a one-time event (horrific accident, natural disaster, significant loss or a type of violent episode). It can also result from persistent stress over a period of time (living in a domestic violence situation or struggling with a terminal illness).

Fortunately, there is a wealth of helpful information on this topic. Mental Health America has developed guidelines and resources to help respond and cope with tragic events and has a fact sheet to help children (pre-school age, grade-school age and adolescents) cope with tragedy.

If you are concerned about a child’s reactions or about their behavior or emotions, contact the child’s school or local community mental health center or counseling center.