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Psychologists offer advice in opening conversations with children about school shootings

Psychologist give advice on opening conversations about school shootings
Psychologist give advice on opening conversations about school shootings 02:13

CHICAGO (CBS) -- For a lot of parents, it was hard to send the kids to school this morning -- and even tougher to talk to kids about the Texas school shooting.

CBS 2'S Bradley Blackburn looks at ways to start the conversation and keep the lines of communication open.

It's a conversation parents wish they didn't have to have with their children -- discussing deadly school shootings.

"It's scary for them to know what to do and to be afraid."

Parents are often afraid to bring up these topics because they don't want to worry their kids. But psychologists say avoiding the conversation can make the situation even scarier for children.

"We want kids to learn about big traumatic things from a trusted adult. If they learn about it from other kids on the playground, homeroom, or overhearing it on the radio in a store, then they are going to hear potentially more sensational bits. They are not going to have accurate information."

Dr. Jamie Howard is a senior clinical psychologist with the Child Mind Institute. She says these conversations can start with children around school age.

"An opener is I am feeling really sad about a news story that I saw, and I wonder if you have heard about it," Howard said. "You always want to start with providing a little bit of information. And let them ask for me. You don't want to jump in with a lengthy detailed explanation because it might be more than they need and more than they want.

Dr. Howard says parents can remind kids that statistically this violence is still very unlikely to happen at their school and they can talk about what safety measures are in place.

"They practice stay put drills in their school where the doors are locked, and they stay quiet. And I don't even think my daughter knew what they were for. So, they weren't so scary to her but now she has a better understanding that they are to help keep her safe

Experts also say it's okay for parents to look sad or angry, but they should be mindful that big emotions from a parent can also scare children.

Parents should also keep a close eye on changes to their child's emotions, behavior, appetite, or sleep which can be signs a child is feeling anxious. 

The National Association of School Psychologists says doing things that you enjoy, sticking to your routine, and being with friends and family can help make us feel better and keep us from worrying about the event.

For more help and ideas on how to talk to your children about the violence, visit the NASP website

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