How to Talk to Children After Mass Shootings in California, Washington

As the news continues to unfold after several deadly mass shootings over the past four days in California and Washington state, experts are advising parents not to hesitate to talk to their children about what happened and the aftermath.

At least 11 people were killed and nine were injured after a gunman opened fire Saturday night at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif. In Northern California, seven people were killed after shootings at two farms in Half Moon Bay on Monday.

Earlier on Tuesday, another shooting took place at a Circle K convenience store in Yakima, Wash., leaving three people dead and a possible fourth person injured.

ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, shared tips on how families and caregivers can talk to youth about mass shootings last July on “GMA3.”

Read on for her advice — and tips from other experts — on how to discuss sensitive issues with your kids.

Start an age-appropriate conversation

“The first step is to establish an age-appropriate dialogue, open lines of communication with your child,” recommended Ashton.

The Doctor. Robin Gurwitch, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor at Duke University who specializes in talking to children about trauma and disaster, agrees. Parents and caregivers must “be willing to bring this issue up,” Gurwitch told the “GMA” last May.

“We really want to hug them and make them feel safe,” Gurwitch said at the time. “But part of being a parent is the willingness to discuss difficult topics.”

Gurwitch added that it helps to calmly discuss the issue, listen to children’s perspectives and concerns, ask and answer questions, and reassure them whenever possible.

Ashton also encouraged parents to lead with honesty and transparency and not be afraid to say “I don’t have an answer” or share their feelings.

“We shouldn’t sit back and wait for them to come and say, ‘Mom, Dad, I’d like to talk about gun violence,'” Ashton continued. “We need to take the first step and go to them early and often and say, ‘What are you thinking about? What are you afraid of? What questions do you have?'”

Ashton suggested that the adults offer a solution, such as, “I don’t have an answer for that, but I’m going to help you find it. I know you’re scared, and so am I, but let me tell you what your teachers and the what your parents and community are trying to do to help you stay safe’.”

Monitor children’s behavior

Psychiatrist and author Dr. Janet Taylor and Gurwitch said children can respond to disturbing news about mass shootings in different ways and parents should watch to see if their children’s behavior changes. Children may have trouble concentrating, sleeping, or become more irritable.

“If you have younger kids and they suddenly get clingier or want to sleep in bed with you, pay attention to that and hug them as needed,” Taylor told “GMA” in 2022. “Older kids can get more isolated or feel they have to work things out for themselves.”

Practice stress reduction techniques

News of mass shootings can negatively impact children and adults and trigger anxiety and other feelings of stress. Author Rachel Simmons said that breathing exercises can help children, but also parents, who can model the practice.

“You can take a deep breath, count to three, hold for three, then release for three, so that’s nine seconds of breathing in… and breathing out,” Simmons told ABC News in 2019. “Do it three times. They can kind of fall off their feet.” back into their bodies and feel so much calmer.”

PHOTO: Child and parents holding hands

Remember to check in

Rather than discussing a mass shooting just once, Gurwitch said it’s crucial to continue the conversation over time.

“A single conversation is not enough,” she said. “Let your child or teen know that ‘I really care about you and I’m open to having this discussion.’

Get professional help

If a child’s stress levels or response to a mass shooting are difficult to control, doctors say parents shouldn’t hesitate to seek advice from their pediatrician, a local psychological association, a counselor, social worker or other experts. in mental health and community leaders.

Licensed psychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez also pointed out that if a parent or caregiver is struggling, they shouldn’t wait to seek help.

“Psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health professionals like myself are available in telehealth … you feel like your anxiety is where you’re really afraid of going back to the real world and you’re missing out on life, it’s time to seek help,” Hafeez told ABC News in 2021.

The National Childhood Traumatic Stress Network offers comprehensive resource guides for parents, caregivers, and educators to support students. Click here for resources related to school shootings.

How to Talk to Children After Mass Shootings in California, Washington

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