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Talking to kids about mass tragedies

Posted at 5:34 PM, Aug 05, 2019

After the recent tragedies in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton, some parents may struggle with how to speak to their children about a topic that can often be scary for younger kids.

Many kids are used to doing active shooter drills in schools now, like many older generations used to practice fire drills. While it may be becoming more normalized, San Luis Obispo County's Behavioral Health Department recommends not only talking with your kids but monitoring their non-verbal cues as well.

For Adriana Ramirez, the shooting in El Paso hits close to home for her as a mom.

"You know, there was a two-month-old little boy in the hospital with broken bones from his mom protecting him and I can only imagine what was going through her mind," Ramirez said.

Ramirez's oldest child is six-years-old.

The Santa Maria mother of three says she often goes back and forth debating about how much information is too much to share.

"I try my hardest to make her comfortable but also let her know what's going on in the world and that there's bad people in the world and we always have to stay alert and be aware of our surroundings and what's going on," Ramirez said.

San Luis Obispo County Behavioral Health Youth Services Division Manager Jill Rietjens says it's best to simplify these types of incidents for kids in preschool or kindergarten.

"Just as simple as, 'A bad person hurt some people' is a good rule of thumb, but for elementary school age kids, asking them if they've heard anything and what they've heard," Rietjens explained.

Rietjens says sometimes kids may not be forthcoming with their feelings so it's best to ask open-ended questions.

"(If you ask) 'are you feeling scared?' A young person could say yes or no but asking how you're feeling will give them an opportunity to talk a little more and it's really important for parents to listen, just give them space," Rietjens said.

Experts say that sometimes children may not want to communicate but would rather draw their feelings or write them down, so it's best to keep an eye out on artwork your child is creating to see if they might be in distress.

They also recommend looking for changes in behavior. Anger or irritability could be signs kids are having trouble processing the events.