Talking With Your Kids About Tragedy

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- With the horrible images and accounts coming from the school shooting tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut parents will need to talk with their kids about dealing with horrific events that are sadly becoming more common in our society.

Sources say 27 people died, including 18 children, following a shooting at an elementary school Friday morning. The gunman fired several shots this morning around the start of classes at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.  The gunman is dead.

Local mental health experts and the American Red Cross offer some suggestions for parents who are dealing with this talking to their kids.

• Restrict your children's media exposure around the event. Young children have difficultly discerning what's real and not real on TV, and may link the footage of this community tragedy to the perception of a real threat to their own environment.

• Encourage children and teens to talk about their concerns and to express their feelings. Some children may be hesitant to initiate such conversation, so you may want to ask what your child has heard and how they feel about it.

• Explain the facts that you know about the event. Use simple, direct terms to describe what happened. Give factual information. You may have to explain more than once.

• Encourage children to talk about confusing feelings, worries, daydreams, and disruptions of concentration by accepting the feelings, listening carefully, and reminding them that these are normal reactions (any of these feelings are okay) following a very scary event.

• Reinforce safety and security. Let children know that tragic incidents are not common and that, day-to-day, schools are safe places. Your child needs a lot of reassurance that you will take care of him.

• Maintain family routines and activities. Help children get enough sleep and maintain a balanced diet.

• You may need to be flexible with bedtime routines. A child may need for you to stay with him while he falls asleep, he may want a night-light, or to sleep with a sibling or with you. 

• If your child is fearful of going to school, if counselors know when your child is in crisis, they can frequently help.

• Spend extra time with your children and your family. Hugs help!

If you are feeling overwhelmed, you may want to consider talking to a mental health professional who can help you develop an appropriate strategy for moving forward. It is important to get professional help if you feel like you are unable to function or perform basic activities of daily living.  You can also call Crisis Services of North Alabama 24/7 at (256) 716-1000 to talk with a trained counselor.