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Talking To Your Kids About School Shootings Is Hard, But Experts Say It's Important

(CBS4) - Shootings in schools can create instant trauma for all of us - parents and kids alike. While it might be difficult to talk about these feelings with your kids, child psychologists say having open and honest conversations with them is helpful and important.

"Our world has gone through a really terrifying and scary event, and our kids are aware of that," said Dr. Jenna Glover, Clinical Child Psychologist and Director of Children's Psychology Training at Children's Hospital Colorado. "If we don't talk to them directly about that, oftentimes it leads to increased feelings of fear and uncertainty, and increased worry."

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(credit: CBS)

Glover offers some advice on how to approach the conversation with your children:

  • Open up by asking your child what they know about the event
  • Ask them if they have any questions for you or anything they want to know more about
  • Validate their concerns or opinions, that this is scary, and together we can identify things we may want to do about it
  • Provide reassurance that you're working to keep them safe, and remind them of security measures at their school
  • Encourage them to report any suspicious activity they may see at school

"The most important thing is to bring up the conversation, you don't have to do it the right way, you don't have to be elegant about it, you just have to bring it up. Doing that is going to give your children much relief because it provides a space where your family can process this together," Glover said.

She says when talking to teens, it's important to check in with them about what they're seeing on social media and how they are engaging with others on social media about this topic.

"A lot of our teenagers have specific attitudes and opinions about why violence happens in our society and what needs to be done about it; take time to listen to your teenager, to validate their perspectives, and have meaningful dialogue about what you and they can do individually and together about this," Glover said.

For younger children, closer to kindergarten age, Glover says, "in general, I tell parents that it is not necessary to talk about these events with very young children unless the children hear about this."

"So kids are good at picking up on things, and if the news is in the background while they are playing, and you notice they are paying attention, it is important to directly address it in a language they can understand," Glover said. "It might be something like, 'somebody did something to hurt other people, and that has made me feel very sad, and we want to make sure that people are kept safe, we want you to know that you're safe.' It can be as brief as that."

She says to keep an eye on your kid's mental state over the next few weeks, and throughout the summer.

And for parents, she says it's important to take care of yourself, too.

"So finding places to talk about this, that is away from your children, where you can fully express the extent of the emotions that you have, also doing things to keep yourself and your family in a routine is critical," Glover said. "When there's instability and unpredictability in our world, it really hurts our mental health, so the more that we can have stable routines, the better."

She reminds parents it's okay to be vulnerable with your children, adding, "it's absolutely okay and helpful to express to your children your emotions and your responses to this, so (saying), 'I am scared, I am frustrated, I am angry about this,' it models that it's okay to have an emotional response, and to express that and talk about it openly."

For more information and guidance on talking to your children about difficult events, click here.

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