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How to Help Your Kids Deal With Tragedy

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Parent or not, it’s impossible to not be saddened by what happened in Connecticut on Friday. As your children go to school today, they may have questions or fears about returning to school. If you aren’t sure what to say, here are what some parenting experts and child psychologists are suggesting to help your kids through this. 

If your children heard about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and you aren’t sure what to say, mental health experts like Dr. Susan Cornbluth who is a parenting expert, clinical psychologist and professor at Temple University say that you should encourage your kids to ask questions. She says to keep answering questions for as long as they are asking. Others say that the flip side of that coin is don’t give them all of the tragic details, but if they’re curious, keep the conversation going. If they’re acting like it doesn’t bother them, it may not truly bother them, so don’t force them to talk about it. If you notice signs of anxiety, especially about going to school, then it’s time for a conversation. Assess the mental capacity of your child and put it into terms they understand.

Turn off the news. When news outlets replay the footage, kids may think that the shooting is happening over and over and over again. Dr. Andrew Harper is the Medical Director of the University of Texas Harris County Psychiatric Center says that while you can’t shield your children from all of the bad things in the world, you can lessen the exposure and reduce their anxiety.

Dr. Sue says that children need to know that this isn’t something that happens all the time and that school is a safe place to be and that they shouldn’t worry. If your children ask, Dr. Sue says it’s important to reassure your kids and say “the school and your teachers are doing everything to keep you safe.” Dr. Harper adds that what happened on Friday is, “very rare” and you should tell your kids that, “There are thousands of schools out there, thousands of kids your age and that they’re safe and that our school, your school, and we are working to keep you as safe as we can.”

Child Development Institute Parenting Today says that you shouldn’t dismiss their feelings. It may take some longer than others to process and get through what happened. They say that you should “allow them to cry if they need to and show their emotions. Share your feelings about what happened with them. Help your kids to verbalize their feelings with you.” The website says that if you have older kids, ask them what their friends are saying and ask how they’re feeling. They add to “make sure they’re receiving the true facts. Tell them you’re there for them.”

Dr. Harper says “It’s important around the kids at home to maintain a reassuring calm demeanor and let your kids know that this is a very unusual thing.” Parents should keep their children’s normal routine. Take the kids Christmas shopping or to visit Santa. Watch a funny family film together or play board games with them and let them know that they are safe.

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