UW Health doctor offers tips for how to talk to kids about Texas school shooting

MADISON, Wis. — Many people are struggling with how to talk to their children and to each other about the shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two staff members dead.

News 3 Now spoke with Dr. Greg Rogers, the director of behavioral health services at UW Health, to learn some ways parents can approach the tragedy with their kids.

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The following is a transcript of that interview; it has been lightly edited for clarity.

Mark Koehn: How can we cope with a world that keeps repeating the same things?

Dr. Greg Rogers: It’s a real challenge. It’s very hard to really hear news like we heard yesterday and to not let it affect us, and really we can let it affect us, that’s okay, it’s normal and human and healthy to have emotions in response to an event like yesterday, and really part of coping is making some space for the upset that we have about it.

Susan Siman: Is it important to express those emotions and talk about how you feel? I wonder if some people are getting numb about these kinds of incidents now?

Dr. Greg Rogers: Yeah, yeah, I think that is definitely part of this. They’re coming so often and they’re so horrific and not much is changing in response that people start to feel helpless and like they have no choice but to simply go on.

Mark Koehn: How do you deal with that helplessness?

Dr. Greg Rogers: People will deal with that differently. Some will try to mobilize and join efforts aimed at preventing violence, and at the very least it’s important that people just kind of continue to go about their routines and take care of themselves and their families as best they can.

Susan Siman: It seems so overwhelming sometimes. Do you have any advice for parents about how to talk to their children about this? Should you talk to your kids about it, or should you shield them from it as much as possible? 

Dr. Greg Rogers: A parent has to assume that even if they try to shield their child from it, you know, that’s not going to work, the child is going to learn about it, hear about it, see it, somewhere, somehow, and generally it’s better if the acknowledgment of the event comes from a trusted adult and at a time where they can talk about how they’re feeling about it, where they have the sort of space and time to discuss those thoughts and feelings.

Mark Koehn:  And often that information they may get from their peers may not be accurate or (may be) sensationalized.

Dr. Greg Rogers: That’s exactly right, and that’s why it’s important to have a trusted adult engaged in the conversation because one of the things that a parent can accomplish is finding out how the child is understanding the event, and, you know, they may be misunderstanding it in some important ways that lead them to feel more unsafe than they need to feel.

Susan Siman: Do you think they should be watching the news with you — with adults, I mean?

Dr. Greg Rogers: You know, whether or not the child is watching the news with a parent, it’s really important that there not be over-exposure in a way that is harmful to the child. So, you know, if a parent is right there with the child, some exposure to the news is probably not a bad thing, especially if they immediately have a chance to process what happened, but parents want to be careful about what their kids see.

Mark Koehn: And we hear and see about an event like this and we all pause and we all are shocked and say ‘Well, nothing’s going to change,’ and that’s the helplessness I think.

Dr. Greg Rogers: Yeah, and that’s again, you know, understandable at a time like this. People are really, really upset that these events continue to happen, and we’d all like to have the sense of safety and predictability and live in a world where this wasn’t a possibility. We don’t need to give kids guarantees or false promises or false assurances; we can give them a sense of safety with the facts and with reassurance and support.

Susan Siman: That’s great advice.

Mark Koehn: Good advice. Dr. Rogers, thanks for being with us today.

Dr. Greg Rogers: Thank you.