Dr. Tiffany Garner, Psy. D. of the MWPH Division of Psychology, West Rogers Avenue in Baltimore, offers advice for parents and other caregivers concerned about how to talk to children after a tragedy:

For immediate release: December 17, 2012


Kathleen R. Lee

410-578-2681 office / 443-386-7003 mobile

  • First, discretely find out what your kids already know, especially if they are very young children. Take a step back and first assess their knowledge of the incident: Do they seem afraid? Let them take the lead and don't introduce a fear that's not already there. If children are 5 years old and younger, don't bring it up at all, unless they bring it up themselves.
  • When they do ask a question about it, provide just the basic details. You are answering the question as honestly as you can while protecting them from some of the tragic details of the incident.
  • Limit or eliminate their media exposure regarding the incident. Children can experience secondary trauma from watching or listening to the repeated media coverage of the shooting.
  • Focus on any positive aspect you can. Focus on the survivors and the fact that more people survived the incident than were hurt. Also, point out the many good people who were and still are helping others - try to stay focused on the positive aspects.
  • With national tragedies, we are actually dealing with it in two parts: as parents and caregivers we have to assess our own feelings and then control our reactions so we are able to be emotionally available to our children. Basically, you want to first make sure you don't communicate a lot of your own anxiety and negative feelings to them. Then, you want to listen to their fears and reassure them with concrete examples of how they are safe - doors are locked in the home, alarm system in place (at home and at school), access to police and rescue workers, neighbors, etc.
  • You want to encourage them to talk with their friends too about the incident so they realize they aren't alone in their feelings and they see that this is really a community-wide tragedy that affects us all.
  • If they seem anxious, worried or afraid, or show other signs of anxiety like stomachaches and headaches continue to provide hugs and reassurance. If these feelings persist, it might be time to consult your child's pediatrician.

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