COLORADO SPRINGS– A week after 11-year-old Gannon Stauch went missing, counselors are advising parents to talk openly to their kids to help them feel safe at home and in their community.
“I think first finding out what kids know about the case, or what they are thinking or feeling about it would be important because sometimes we don’t even know what kids are thinking until we ask them about it,” said DeeAnn Kittrell, Clinical Supervisor at Aspen Pointe. “They might have fears or anxieties or things that they think that are not actually true.”
Kittrell said it’s important to use a developmentally appropriate approach. “If you’re talking to a younger child, they are more concerned about the safety and security of themselves,” she said. She suggests talking to your kids in a way that speaks to their own safety, versus speculating over what might have happened in an unresovled case, such as the one surrouding Stauch.
Kittrell also suggests talking to kids about safety and discussing plans of how you’ll communicate where they are, when they will be home, who they are with, and what to do if they are in trouble.
She says having an open line of communication and discussing plans for emergencies, as a family, can help kids feel safer.
Still, when stressful situations arise, such as that of a missing classmate, counselors say children may have a range of feelings they may find confusing.
Aspen Pointe lists signs that may point to a need for professional help:
- Long periods of sadness – days or weeks and nothing seems to make them better
- Living in the past – the child may seem to think more about the past than the present
- Withdrawn behavior – they have little or no interest in playing or being with friends
- Problems saying good-bye to parents – they do not want to let a parent leave
- Cannot concentrate – they cannot settle on any play activities or jobs you give them
- Changes in daily habits – not acting the way they normally do every day
- Return to younger behavior – wetting themselves, sucking their thumb
- Feeling a sense of responsibility or guilt – they may think divorce or death is their fault
- Feeling angry -they may take their anger out on other children by hitting, biting, and shouting
- Temper tantrums – they might kick and scream more often than before
- Feeling anxious and worried – they may worry about the parents when they are not at home
Aspen Pointe says although many of these behaviors can be normal, getting help is important if:
- The signs are more extreme than you normally see in other children
- They last day after day or week after week
- You or the parents have tried to work with the child, but the problems continue
“It may be normal for kids to have a lot of questions and feelings, but if they are having trouble expressing those feelings openly and you’re seeing signs of stress, it may be a good idea to talk to a counselor,” said Kittrell.
For more information on Aspen Pointe counseling services, click here.