Expert advises parents on dealing with school tragedy

December 14, 2012 8:24:01 PM PST
As the horror of the Connecticut school shooting tragedy sets in, many parents are left troubled and shaken. One of the biggest challenges is how to help children deal with what happened.

Kenneth Dodge, a psychology professor with Duke's Center for Child and Family Policy said safety is the biggest concern children will have.

"They will wonder, 'Am I safe,'" said Dodge. "So the first thing parents can do is calmly assert, 'Yes, you're safe.'"

With multi-media coverage, Dodge said kids will eventually hear about the shooting. So, it's best they hear about it from their parents first.

"Parents can use this as an opportunity to actually get closer to their children," said Dodge.

Dodge said how you explain it depends on the child's development. Teens are more likely to take concrete lessons away from this. Children between the ages of seven and 10 are capable of understanding. However, younger kids have a tougher time.

"Five and six-year-olds understand something horrible happened, but they may not really have an understanding of what death is and what tragedy is," said Dodge.

When kids grasp the gravity of the situation, Dodge said it's normal for them to show symptoms.

"They'll feel anxiety," said Dodge. "They might not want to eat. They might not want to sleep. They might be distracted from homework."

Dodge said overcoming is often as simple as helping your child feel empowered to make a difference.

"Maybe they can write letters to the families of victims," said Dodge. "Maybe they can talk in their schools about how to make their schools safer."

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