'Take a breath and jump in,' experts advise when talking to children about the Texas massacre

Thursday, May 26, 2022
Should you talk to young kids about mass shootings? And how?
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Parents and school systems are grappling with how to talk to children about mass tragedies like the Texas school shooting.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Zava Reyes made the difficult choice to tell her daughter, who's in the second grade at E. K. Powe Elementary School about the deadly shooting in Texas that left 19 children and two teachers dead.

"She got emotional, but she wasn't crying. You could tell that she processed this was a parallel between her and her classmates," Reyes said.

Another mother, Tiondra Henderson felt differently. "I try not to cry literally on the way to school."

Henderson said she is now considering homeschooling her five children.

"The 9- and 7-year-olds, they don't know anything. My 12-year-old does know because he walked in the living room while it was on TV. I don't want to talk to them about it. I shouldn't have to talk to them about it," Henderson said.

Durham Public Schools and other districts are also grappling with how to talk to children.

"We are talking to students," said Dr. LaVerne Mattocks-Perry, DPS senior executive director of student support services. "We are trying to gauge where they are, what they know and how we can be positive role models to help them deal with the emotions that they are feeling but also how you can maintain some hope."

Experts say it's necessary to have an open discussion with your child, gauge what they've heard or seen, and clear up any misinformation.

Psychologists say choosing to not tell your school-age children about this latest massacre could lead to other mental health issues and even feelings of distrust.

"If we cannot talk to them about things, they may not be coming to us to talk to me or share information," said Dr. Robin Gurwitch, psychologist and professor at Duke University.

"Take a breath and jump in," Gurwitch advised.

Experts say it's OK to show children how this is affecting you but also show how you're keeping a sense of hope as children can model that behavior.