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Deadly shootings have parents at a loss for words

December 18, 2012 10:05 AM

Keith Brannon

The shocking mass shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., have many parents anxious about how — or if — they should talk to their own small children about the crime and safety at school. Two Tulane University child psychiatrists have written a tip sheet to help parents with young children following traumatic events.

child watching TV

Traumatic events like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and subsequent news coverage can bring out anxiety in children, even if they are not directly affected. (Photo by Melinda Viles)

The guidelines, written by Dr. Michael Scheeringa and Dr. Stacy Drury, are based on experiences the two have learned in helping families facing trauma ranging from neighborhood violence to disasters like Hurricane Katrina.
It’s usually a good idea to talk about the event, says Scheeringa, but listen to cues from the child. “When kids need to express their feelings, they need to feel like they have someone to whom they can express those with and not keep them bottled up inside,” he says.

But, if a child doesn’t want to talk about it, then let it drop. “People cope in different ways, and some people may do better when not pushed to talk. There is no ‘right’ way to talk about these experiences,” Scheeringa says.

Traumatic events like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and subsequent news coverage can bring out anxiety well beyond the community directly affected. Drury counseled one local parent who found herself filled with fear at the prospect of leaving her child at school Monday morning. This was something she did without question only days ago.

The idea that such a loss of safety could happen in an affluent, idyllic place like Newtown can make parents and children feel unsafe even if their own neighborhood is far away from the actual event.  “This is one of the things that people don’t understand,” Drury says.

Scheeringa and Drury also have written a guide for professionals, “Assessment and Treatment of Very Young Children Victims of Trauma: Resources for Clinicians.”

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000