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How to talk with your children about the Robb Elementary shooting

NORTHERN MICHIGAN – Earlier this week, a school shooting occurred at Robb Elementary School in Texas. This tragedy may have parents wondering how to speak with their children about what happened, as well as how to help manage grief, stress and mental health that’s associated with a trauma or crisis.

Robin L. Greiner, L.M.S.W., behavioral health therapist at MyMichigan Health, suggest these seven tips for parents when speaking to their children about crisis:

  1. Understand your child’s concerns. Begin by asking your child what they already understand about what happened. As they explain what they know, you can figure out what they don’t already know or understand. Look for misunderstandings or frightening rumors. By listening to your child and coming to understand their feeling, you can better help them make sense of the experiences and how they affect us all.
  1. Validate what your child is feeling. Give your child the space to be heard and the opportunity to express their feelings. Feelings of fear, nervousness and trauma are common in these scenarios, and it’s important to validate your child’s feelings. Tell them that it’s okay to feel scared or nervous rather than telling them that they have nothing to worry about.
  1. Stay calm and use reassurance to help your child feel safe. Explain to your child what precautions are being taken for their safety. For example, remind them that school visitors enter through a security door. Limit the amount of exposure to media coverage and come together as a family to make them feel safe at home.
  1. Use simple, age-appropriate language. Listen to the questions that your children are asking and find out what they already know so that you can correct any misconceptions. This is especially important if you have older children who may have seen the news or gotten information from social media. Respond to their concerns with comforting language, using terms that they can understand.  
  1. Return to routine as soon as you can. Kids thrive on routine, schedules and consistency. Returning to your normal routine as soon as you feel comfortable will help with feelings of balance and normalcy and will help with feelings of fear.
  1. Read, listen and share with your child. Look for children’s books that discuss grief and trauma. Dramatic readings of children’s books can often be found on YouTube for you to experience without buying. There are books and videos for children of all ages to help identify and normalize how they might be feeling as well as offer suggestions for parents who want to support their children and help them work through their emotions in a healthy way. 
  2. Ask for help if you need additional support. If you feel as though your child is experiencing anxiety or you’re noticing things such as not wanting to return to school, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, or other behavioral changes, don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you or your child need support.

MyMichigan Health offers comprehensive behavioral health services from outpatient one-on-one therapy, intense outpatient program to meet the need of older adults, to partial hospitalization program and inpatient services. Those interested in learning more, including a list of services available, may visit mymichigan.org/mentalhealth.

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