OR mental health specialist on how to talk to children and teens about mass shootings

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As mass shootings feel increasingly commonplace and create a “weariness” for those hearing the news, a mental health specialist shares ways parents and caregivers can talk about shootings with their children.

Mental health specialist, Eddie Carrillo, says it’s important for parents or carers to listen to their children to see how they process the news.

“We want our children to know that we are there to listen. We want to be able to see where they are with the news, where they’ve interpreted news or media they’ve consumed and see what kind of impact has happened and what they need to move forward,” Carrillo said.

Carrillo, a licensed mental health specialist at Sherwood High School, noted that the kind of support children or teens need to cope with these events varies, as some children may not need much support or others may have questions they should have answered.

He also says it’s important for parents or carers to see how they themselves are affected by the news; especially now that mass shootings are becoming commonplace.

“Unfortunately, it feels like it’s been happening consistently for the past few years, and we might almost feel tired when news like this happens. So we want to ask ourselves if we’re ready to have these conversations. If we’re not ready, we want to see what we need to be ready,” said Carrillo.

He also says how parents talk to children or teens about mass shootings depends on their age.

“Some experts say around age eight is appropriate to have these conversations, but it really depends on the child. Anyone under the age of eight, and if they’re not ready yet, we want to do our best to protect them from such news,” Carrillo said.

When the child or teen is ready to talk about it, Carrillo says to “focus on the positives,” including how quickly help got to the scene, noting, “We want to keep the information factual for these kids. Now that we’re getting older having children and teenagers, it’s a good idea to see how they interpret the news, how they are influenced, how they understand the news.

From there, he says, parents can see how to lead the conversation.

“In my time working with teenagers, I think this generation is very solution oriented. So with that in mind, we want to help them figure out ways they feel safe, empowered, and feel like they can take control of their situation,” Carrillo said.

He also noted that parents may not know what to do or feel helpless when talking to their children about shootings, but said: “One of the most important things they can do to improve the situation is to educate their children and teens a safe and protective home environment.”

Carrillo says to look for changes in children’s behavior or mood after being exposed to the news as possible signs that they may be affected by news of the incident.

“There’s a trauma that’s acted on us that we experience directly, whether it’s something violent or something physical,” explains Carollo. “There is also perceived trauma. If our child or teen feels impacted, perhaps traumatized, by something that happened – even if you or I don’t feel it was impacted – it’s important that we acknowledge that. That reminds us that we don’t perceive things in the same way, we’re not affected in the same way.”

Parents and carers can seek help for their children through paediatricians, other medical professionals or seek advice from school counselors, teachers or staff who can help provide insight into how they can help.

OR mental health specialist on how to talk to children and teens about mass shootings

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