Child psychiatrist offers advice on talking to children about school shooting tragedies

Child psychiatrist offers advice on talking to children about school shooting tragedies
Child Psychiatrist Bhawani Ballamudi 

School shootings and other national tragedies leave us saddened and scared. Events like the recent mass shooting at a high school in Broward County, Florida, can also bring up a lot of questions, including, “How do I talk to my child about what happened?”

SSM Health Dean Medical Group child psychiatrist Dr. Bhawani Ballamudi says reassurance is key. Kids need to feel safe.

“It’s important to create an open and supportive environment for the kids to ask questions,” Ballamudi said. “Be patient, as the questions may come back again and again as the kids are making sense of the tragedy in their own realities.”

Ballamudi emphasizes the importance of being honest when talking with your kids. Try to keep the information as factual as possible, without excessive emotion or drama.

Kids react more to the emotion sometimes than to the contents of the conversation.

Here is a list of other important things she says you should keep in mind when talking to children about tragedies, such as the recent school shooting:

Keep the explanations developmentally appropriate and age specific. The younger the child, the more generic you need to keep the conversation.
Acknowledge and validate the child’s feelings, emotions and reactions, and let them know it’s normal to have these emotions.
Kids tend to personalize the experience and worry about their own situation. Let them know that there are a lot of nice people that are there for them.
Avoid excess exposure to TV news and media coverage about the shooting. Kids sometimes do not understand if this is repeated coverage or if there has been another incident.

“Children are quite resilient and most will return to their normal activities and personality fairly quickly, but parents should be alert to any signs of anxiety that might suggest that a child or teenager needs more assistance,” Ballamudi said.

Seek professional help if your child is struggling with sleep problems, is excessively clinging to you, refuses to go to school or has intrusive thoughts or fears about going out in public.

If you are concerned about your child’s well-being, first contact your child’s physician. Your child’s physician will be able to determine if another talk with a specialist, dedicated to helping children through difficult conversations such as these, is appropriate.