How to talk with children about the Connecticut shooting, other tragedies

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School-chalkSEATTLE — Following the tragic shooting in Connecticut, many parents around the country are left with the difficult task of talking to their children about the horrific tragedy.

Psychiatrists at the Seattle Children’s Hospital have released a blog post with tips on how to talk with kids about the shooting, and gun violence in general. Dr. Bob Hilt, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Seattle Children’s, said parents should be prepared to help their children deal with traumatic events, such as natural disasters and acts of violence.

Hilt suggested parents follow these tips to help their kids process traumatic events:

  1. Control what kids are seeing and hearing. Limit the amount and type of news coverage your child is exposed to. If the TV is on, make sure you watch with your kids so you can answer any questions they might have about what they’re seeing. Younger kids don’t have the ability to contextualize traumatic events. A child might personalize an event and worry that it might happen to his family. While teens are better able to emotionally process violence and disasters, they might still have questions. Make sure to check in with your older children as well.
  2. Be open and honest. Kids are perceptive, and even young kids will be aware that something bad has happened, even if they can’t fully process it. When they ask questions, check with them first to see what they know or think has happened. Keep answers simple, and avoid providing more information than needed.
  3. Expect delayed reactions. While some kids will have questions right away, others may react days or weeks later. Encourage your child to ask questions whenever they have them, and check in to see if they are struggling to cope.
  4. Offer different ways to express feelings. A child’s fears or anxieties may show up in the form of temper tantrums, nightmares, sudden shyness, or a regression to behaviors she’s outgrown, such as thumb sucking or sleeping with a stuffed animal. Provide different outlets for your child share her feelings, such as coloring, drawing or writing them down.
  5. Keep up your routines. Regular schedules and routines help a child feel safe and secure. As much as possible, stick to your normal routines during stressful times.
  6. Reassure your child. Let your kids know that they are safe and will not be left alone.
  7. Monitor your own feelings. Kids will pick up on their parents’ anxieties. Make sure you have a plan to manage your own feelings and seek help if you need it.

Youth Eastside Services is a nonprofit organizations providing a lifeline for kids and families coping with challenges such as emotional distress, substance abuse and violence. They offer advice on talking to children, ranging from infants to late teens, about tragic events.

“For teens, their worries are often based more on what they know or what they are learning in school,” officials with Youth Eastside Services said.

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