Family Psychologist gives guidelines on how to talk to your kids about mass shootings


The deadly school shooting in Florida is sparking conversations here at home. 17 people were killed and more than a dozen injured when a 19-year-old walked into the Parkland, Florida school and starting shooting.

On Friday, Richmond County Schools Superintendent Dr. Angela Pringle sent a letter home to parents about the incident’s impact on local students. Part of that letter described how Richmond County Schools experienced an increase in “unsubstantiated threats” on Friday. Dr. Pringle assured parents they investigated and participants will be disciplined. She said these individuals could also face charges.

In the letter, Dr. Pringle also mentioned the conversations you could be having with your children about the tragedy in Florida. This prompted us to get some advice from a child psychology expert about how to talk to your kids about mass shootings. NewsChannel 6’s Ashley Osborne talked to Dr. Bernard Davidson who is a Family Psychologist at Augusta University.

Dr. Davidson says, often parents first response events like mass shootings is—‘what in the world am I going to tell my kids?’ He says, before going to your children, take a moment to process your own grief with another adult.

“Parents appearance and how they’ve processed the anxiety associated with this is probably going to be more significant as a potential adverse having some adverse impact on the child, than the news itself,” explains Dr. Davidson.

He says, as a general rule, for children 6 and under the recommendation is you do not need to bring it up. If they ask about negative events, complement the good with the bad and use short, simple sentences.

“[Things like] a bad person carried out some bad things and hurt some people and that’s really not very nice,” Dr. Davidson gives as an example. “I would also emphasize that there were a lot of good people there helping out,” he continued. He stressed the importance of pointing out the heroes in the story like the brave teachers and law enforcement officials.

Dr. Davidson advises that it is critical to limit your child’s exposure to bad news.

“Young children when they see the same story repeated over and over, they’re not really getting that it’s the same story repeated over and over. It’s almost as if—here’s another, here’s another bad thing,” Dr. Davidson describes.

For older children in the age range of around 10 or 11, it is important not to over talk a tragedy, but they probably already know about the mass shooting. Therefore, when you go to them, ask how they feel about it first.

“I would recommend that parents don’t have kind of an ideal in mind of how their child should respond,” says Dr. Davidson.

In the end, you want your child to have a positive takeaway from a conversation about a horrific act.

“Make sure they know that there are good people out there wanting to help them, wanting to protect them, especially you as their parent and that you will be there and emphasizing that and not just the tragedy that happened,” Dr. Davidson explains.

Typically, you will pick up on signs if a terrible incident is affecting your child. Dr. Davidson says look out for the following indicators—interruption with sleep, changes in appetite, mood swings and/or irritability.

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