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How to talk to your child about Bills' safety Damar Hamlin's collapse

A licensed psychologist from WNY answers questions from parents about the mental health of the children after witnessing the trauma on the field.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Football fans across the country witnessed Buffalo Bills' safety Damar Hamlin collapsing on the field Monday night. It was hard for anyone to watch, but it's particularly hard for children and teens who might not understand what they witnessed and how they should feel. 

2 On Your Side's Melissa Holmes spoke with Dr. Nichol Eaton, a licensed psychologist who works with children and adolescents, to address concerns children might be having and offer advice to parents who might have trouble answering those questions. 

Q: My child was watching the game with me and saw Hamlin collapse. What should I tell them about witnessing that trauma?

Dr. Eaton: "There isn't really a manual for this and we all found that out last night watching. It's important to just sit with your child or your adolescent. Let them have a moment to be in their feelings, to comfort them. Providing reassurance isn't always the best bet because we don't always know the outcome of traumatic situations. So it's really important to just sit with the feelings and emotions, provide that comfort and then continue to provide support moving forward."

Q: What if my child doesn't ask any questions?

Dr. Eaton: "My advice is usually being proactive as a parent. Even if the child doesn't bring it up, it's extremely unlikely that they didn't hear something today. So it might be worthwhile to at least ask a few questions and begin to start the conversation. If there isn't a lot to talk about and the child really isn't interested in the conversation, that's fine. You can indicate that if anything changes, they can bring that up in the future. I think it's a good opportunity to bring up a conversation regarding what's real, what's accurate, how information is disseminated in our community and online and then talk about the facts."

Q: How should I talk to my kids about seeing Buffalo Bills players like Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs so emotionally upset?

Dr. Eaton: "To see these athletes and strong heroes showing vulnerability, that shows our youth that it is OK to be vulnerable. It is OK to be sad and scared and that we need help and we need support when we are experiencing trauma. I hope that those individuals are getting the help that they need today as well, and my hope is that all the young adults and children in the community are able to reach out and ask for help if they need it."

Q: Between the Tops mass shooting, 40 people dying in the blizzard, 5 children dying in a house fire last weekend, and now watching Damar Hamlin collapse, my children have heard about so many traumatic events in Buffalo and Western New York. How do we deal with that? 

Dr. Eaton: "Buffalo has been caught in a vicious cycle this past year of so much tragedy and heartbreak. There isn't a manual to deal with a situation like this. Talking about trauma is about providing space and about providing comfort and starting conversations about what they saw and what they think and what they feel and what their fears are. We don't want to instill false hope. We don't want to tell our children or adolescents that bad things don't happen. This is an opportunity to talk to your children about these athletes being human and how although they're performing for our entertainment, at the end of the day they are sons, they are friends, they are significant others and they are people and we need to remember that." 

Q: What if my child or teen is afraid to play sports because of what he or she witnessed with Hamlin's collapse? 

Dr. Eaton: "When we talk about any fears with children, whether it's a very rare situation like this or you're getting on an airplane, talk about the facts. What is likely to happen versus what could happen is very important to talk about."

Q: My teen is looking at social media to get information about Damar Hamlin. What should I do about that?

Dr. Eaton: "I think as a parent you need to determine what is an accurate outlet of media. The Buffalo Bills Foundation is doing a great job of updating as they see fit and I think that that's a great resource to go to. They are going to provide the most accurate and timely information and I think that beginning to sensor some of the other outlets is probably important."

Mental health resources in WNY: 

-Crisis Services 716-834-3131 (crisis intervention)

-Individual school district social work departments

-BestSelf Behavioral Health (716) 391-5700 (clinic with walk-in services)

-Horizon Health Services- (716) 831-1800

-Spectrum Health and Human Services- (716)710.5172

- www.psychologytoday.com (searchable directory of local private practitioners)

-Nichol Eaton-Wolkiewicz, PsyD (716)710-9253  NYS Licensed Psychologist  

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