CONNECTICUT, USA — With another mass shooting, the second in fewer than two weeks, some parents are facing the question: "How do I talk about this with my children?"
According to law enforcement officials, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos barricaded himself inside a classroom on Tuesday and shot and killed 19 children and two adults inside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
The shooting came fewer than two weeks after another mass shooting, this time in New York state. There, 18-year-old Payton Gendron specifically targeted a grocery store in a predominately Black neighborhood in Buffalo, officials said. There, he shot and killed 10 people at random, live streaming the first two minutes onto the streaming platform Twitch.
The recent shootings are just two in a long list of mass shootings that have plagued the country over the years, including the Sandy Hook mass shooting in 2012.
For adults, senseless violence can be hard to wrap our heads around. For children, it can be near-incomprehensible. So how do we approach the topic?
"The number one thing we need to do for our kids is [to] reassure them of their safety," said psychotherapist and author Niro Feliciano.
While that seems simple enough to do, Feliciano said she understands many parents, including herself, struggle with what's happened, but that the reassurance is what children need.
"We want to remind them of the things the school is doing to keep them safe. We want to point them to teachers who they trust, who they feel comfortable with, who are there to keep them safe, and reassure them that we as parents will do everything in our power to ensure their safety," Feliciano continued.
Dr. Laura Saunders with the Institute of Living also said to provide assurances, but no promises.
"There's a difference tween providing assurance and providing promises," Saunders said. "So we can't promise anything. Assurance is 'We will do our best at home to keep you safe. At school, we believe our school officials do their best to keep the building safe – it's why you practice fire drills, it's why you practice lockdown drills – we do these things to keep you safe. We have to just hope the things we're putting in place will keep you safe. While there are no guarantees, it's very hard to carry that anxiety each day.'"
The American Psychological Association (APA) also has tips on how to talk with your children and help them process the emotions following mass shootings:
- Talk with your child. Talking to your children about their worries and concerns is the first step to help them feel safe and begin to cope with the events occurring around them. What you talk about and how you say it does depend on their age, but all children need to be able to know you are there listening to them."
- Keep home a safe place. Children, regardless of age, often find home to be a safe haven when the world around them becomes overwhelming. During times of crisis, it is important to remember that your children may come home seeking the safe feeling they have being there. Help make it a place where your children find the peace or comfort they need. Consider planning a night where everyone participates in a favorite family activity.
- Watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety. After a traumatic event, it is typical for children (and adults) to experience a wide range of emotions, including fearfulness, shock, anger, grief and anxiety. Your children's behaviors may change because of their response to the event. They may experience trouble sleeping, difficulty with concentrating on schoolwork or home responsibilities, changes in appetite, and changes in mood. This is normal for everyone and should begin to disappear in four to six weeks, if no other traumatic events have occurred. Encourage your children to put their feelings into words by talking about them or journaling. Some children may find it helpful to express their feelings through art, such as drawing/painting pictures, telling stories, etc.
- Take "news breaks." Your children may want to keep informed by gathering information about the event from the internet, television or newspapers. It is important to limit the amount of time spent watching the news or staying connected online because constant exposure may actually heighten their anxiety and fears. Also, talk to them about what they have seen or read.
- Monitor adult conversations. Be aware that your children may be listening to your conversations. If they do not understand they will “fill in the gaps,” which can increase anxiety.
The National Child Traumatic Street Network (NCTSN) also stressed the same points regarding conversations with children about these events.
NCTSN said as well to reach out for extra help if needed and reminds parents to take care of themselves too.
"Should reactions continue or at any point interfere with your children’s/teens’ abilities to function or if you are worried, contact local mental health professionals who have expertise in trauma. Contact your family physician, pediatrician, or state mental health associations for referrals to such experts," said NCTSN.
Jennifer Glatz is a digital content producer at FOX61 News. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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