Tips to help kids cope with school shooting


Even in a quiet, playground oasis, thoughts of the tragic Connecticut school shooting thousands of miles away still enter the minds of parents.

Sigal Hagen is a mother and school teacher from New York City. The horrific shootings hit close to home in many ways.

"No one is safe in New York. No one is safe anywhere," Hagen said.

When her students ask her what happened, she's not even sure what to say.

"People are not well, I guess, and make choices to do things that you can't make sense out of," Hagen said.

Child psychologist Veronica Chavez says children can feel confused and scared for their safety during times of tragedy.

"Just reassure them, everything's OK," Chavez said.

Chavez is part of Project Heal at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. She and her team mobilize in times of tragedy. The first step for parents, she says, don't over talk this.

"Don't give too much information. Sometimes we don't know, just a simple 'I don't know why this person did this' is sufficient," Chavez said.

You don't have to be at the scene to be traumatized by it. Just hearing reports or seeing images is enough and what psychologists call secondary or vicarious terrorism.

"Kids couldn't sleep. Kid's couldn't eat, had a lot of nightmares," Chavez said. "They were extremely fearful. They didn't want to go to school. They were very clingy with their parents."

So for young children under 7 years old, Dr. Chavez says try to shield them as much as you can. They don't need to know about this tragedy.

According to Dr. Chavez, older children want to hear you say they're safe. Stay calm, they'll take their cues from you on how to react.

Ask teenagers to describe their thoughts, Chavez said. Later, you may be able to help them channel feelings of helplessness into a charity or community project.

And for kids of all ages, watch for signs of difficulty coping. Two warning signs that children are having difficulty coping include sudden, unexplained changes in sleeping patterns or getting daily usual activities done. If issues persist, get some professional help.

Lastly, don't change your child's routine and when in doubt, reassure, reassure, reassure.

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