Two Tyler mental health professionals advised parents to stay as calm and reassuring as they can when they talk to their children about the school shooting that happened in Connecticut on Friday.
If children ask their parents for an explanation, Ms. Frank suggested taking the child’s age into account.
“A good rule of thumb is to spend about one minute per grade level in the explanation of what happened,” she said. For a first-grader, spend about a minute of explanation, and so on, as the age progresses, Ms. Frank said.
She offered some tips for parents on how to help their children cope. First on the list is to stay calm.
“Kids are safest when their parents are in charge. If you sound anxious, your child can become anxious,” Ms. Frank said.
Also, take charge of what your kids see and hear about the event.
“Having the television on and chatting about it is sending kids on sensory overload — be mindful of what your children are getting,” Ms. Frank said.
Overexposure to traumatic events can be overwhelming for children and adults, and children can become clingy and regress, she said. She suggested turning off the television and the radio.
Dr. Gayle Burress, a Tyler psychologist who recently closed her practice, has 30 years of experience treating children and frequently testifies in court cases involving child abuse. Dr. Burress echoed Ms. Frank’s comments about offering a child reassurance and listening to them.
“Be a reassuring listener and let them talk and be upset — tell them it’s normal to be scared,” she said. Dr. Burress said it may take more than one talk to banish a child’s fears.
And sometimes, the best parenting means being quiet and being still, she said. “Talk less and listen more,” she said. Another suggestion: turn off the television and other electronic media and have the evening meal as family.
And when a parent does ask a child questions, Dr. Burress suggested asking open-ended ones that won’t result in one- or two-word answers.
“I have asked children, ‘What’s the hardest thing you did today?’ or ‘What’s the happiest thing you did today?’” she said, adding that a child can’t just come back and say, “Fine,” they have to think about their answer a little bit.