6 Tips to help your children cope with trauma

The media is full of stories that can cause your child to become anxious, stressed or fearful.  Shootings, school violence, and natural disasters are all events that may trigger trauma.

AUR-0545Events such as this can cause post-traumatic stress reactions, which can range from mild to severe. Reaction to trauma can overwhelm a child’s ability to cope.

Munther Barakat, PsyD is a psychologist in the Child & Adolescent Day treatment program at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital. Here are his suggestions for minimizing the impact of post-traumatic stress reactions.

    • Early intervention in childhood psychic trauma is important. Families that offer support, understanding, and a sense of safety as close to the time of the traumatic event as possible can effectively limit the effects of trauma on a child.
    • Try to keep normal routines. Kids gain security from the predictability of routine.
    • It is important to limit the amount of time spent watching the news because constant exposure may actually heighten their anxiety and fears.
    • Talk about the events with your child to the level your child is developmentally able to handle. It is unlikely they have not heard about the event from peers, social media or news and television. Not talking about it can make the event even more threatening. PBS Parents offers help on how to talk with children about news events.
    • Assure children that they are safe and so are their schools.

Munther Barakat is a doctor of psychology at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital in Wauwatosa.

  • Watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety. It may also a good idea to consult a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other mental health professional for evaluation and treatment if behaviors are severe.

If your child, or a child you know has experienced trauma, contact us at 1-877-666-7223 or visit the Aurora Psychiatric Hospital website.

For more information on trauma, visit these resources:


Want to lose holiday weight? Lose the diet first!

The Twelve Days of Christmas, or “How to have your plum pudding and eat it too!”

anne sprenger

Anne Sprenger is a registered dietician working in the eating disorders program at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital.

Right after the holidays there is a noticeable increase in advertising for weight loss programs. This is no doubt an effort to take advantage of the fact that many people will gain an average of seven pounds over the holidays!

Current research shows the whole concept of “dieting” doesn’t really work for anyone to lose weight or even stay at a healthy weight.

According to Psychology Today, about 95% of people who lose weight by dieting will regain it in 1-5 years. The temporary nature of dieting means it won’t work in the long run. One reason is that cutting out calories changes your metabolism and brain, so your body hoards fat and your mind magnifies food cravings into an obsession.

Dieting raises levels of hormones that stimulate appetite — and lowers levels of hormones that suppress it. For more information about why diets don’t work, click here.

In the true non-diet spirit, follow these recommendations from Anne Sprenger, registered dietician at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital.

Day 1 (Christmas Day): Throw out every calorie-counting book on the shelf. We know dieting doesn’t work.

Day 2: There is not one food you cannot have today. It is human nature telling ourselves we can’t have something makes us want more. If we eat a forbidden food, we feel guilty. Permission allows us to eat without guilt and to eat less in the long run.

Day 3: Don’t skip breakfast and lunch because you are going out for dinner tonight. You will just set yourself up to overeat the entire evening. If dinner is late, have a snack before you go. Once you are full at dinner, set aside the reset of the food and ask for a “doggie bag” to take home.

Day 4: Take time for yourself by taking a walk. If you don’t have an hour, then 15 minutes will do.

Day 5: Don’t eat those cookies sitting around at work for lunch. Eat a well-balanced lunch containing all the food groups and then see how many of those cookies you really want.

Day 6: While planning that special dinner menu, think of colorful low-fat choices to put with that prime rib you want to serve. Fresh steamed asparagus could replace broccoli with cheese sauce. Other festive options are cauliflower with red & green peppers or lime & raspberry sherbet in schaum torte cups.

Day 7: Pamper yourself with a bubble bath, a long shower or a nap. Often we turn to food as a stress-reliever, when what our body really needs is time to relax and unwind.

Day 8: Happy New Year! Make a resolution this year to take time to take care of yourself-enough time for exercise, enough time for relaxation, and enough time to enjoy food.

Day 9: Don’t suffer with your special once-a-year recipe made with fat-free sour cream. Use the tastier low-fat version that you will enjoy, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking “fat-free is calorie free”. This simply is not true.

Day 10: Go sledding with the kids

Day 11: Go buy some fresh watermelon, fresh berries, or any other non-winter fruit you can find. What a treat!

Day 12: You don’t have to finish all your plum pudding. It will save until tomorrow; you can eat it for breakfast if you like. Once it is gone, cherish the memories of a delightful treat. Or better yet, plan to make it again in July!

If you or someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder, please contact Aurora Behavioral Health Services at 877-666-7223 or visit our web site at Aurora Behavioral Health Services

How do you perceive people with psychiatric issues?


What if you were to ask a group of friends or colleagues “How many of you have ever broken a bone?”

I’m sure they would not have thought twice about raising their hands if that were the case. Then I would have asked “How many of you have ever been diagnosed and treated for some form of mental or emotional disturbance?” I suspect none would have raised their hands, and there would have been an awkward silence.

Perhaps the stigma which continues to linger in our modern age is because the field of psychiatry is relatively young, compared to other sciences. Or perhaps it is because there tends to be an unrealistic expectation that anyone who is “competent” should not incur such types of problems.

The truth of the matter is: man, by his very nature, is imperfect, and mental health conditions can be inherited, just like so many other illnesses. Mental health conditions can also develop easily enough based on our ever-changing sets of life circumstances. Chemical imbalances stemming from a variety of bodily changes, such as hormonal, or thyroid, or a wide variety of other factors, can also bring on a range of psychiatric symptoms. All of these can happen to any of us at any time, whether we like it or not.

Why is it we don’t hesitate to contact our doctor when we have a physical problem, but hesitate to contact them when the problem is of an emotional nature? This is where the stigma comes in; that fear of what others might think of us. And that fear is based on a sense of shame, as if for some reason we are automatically buying into the negative stereotype of whatever label our symptoms might suggest.

As individuals we are far more than one or two labels might suggest. If we suffer from symptoms of anxiety or depression or a myriad of other potential psychiatric symptoms, does that make up the whole of who we are? Does that mean we are to automatically assume feelings of shame, inadequacy, or worse yet, label ourselves as a victim? If we break a leg do we not place our focus on the steps we need to take to heal, as opposed to just laying there as if nothing can be done?

Some progress has been made regarding the unfortunate stigma which has been placed on mental health or emotional problems, but we still have a long way to go. Every day we see the kinds of shortcomings each of us too often display, whether they can be labeled as a legitimate psychiatric condition or not.

The fact is, we have all exhibited unhealthy behaviors toward each other, and the challenge to improve our condition is always by degrees. We live in a world with a million shades of gray, and it does none of us any good to think strictly in polarized terms, as if everything should be black or white, all or nothing. We would all be wise to daily practice a greater degree of compassion to those in the world around us.

For more about mental health treatment, please contact Aurora Behavioral Health Services at 877-666-7223 or visit our web site at Aurora Behavioral Health Services

Aurora Behavioral Health Services offers complete mental health treatment options, provided by highly trained professionals in a caring, confidential manner to meet individual and family needs.  If you or someone you know needs help, contact us — online or by phone at 1-877-666-7223 — as soon as possible.