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Community Safety

Talking to Kids About Orlando Shooting, National Tragedies

Helping hands
Alan Cleaver

In the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting, follow up reports have become commonplace on national and local media. Children may be exposed to none or many of these stories, depending on their access to media and conversations. 

Vicky Mieseler, vice president of Clinical Services for the Ozark Center, has spent the past five years working with children and parents that experienced the Joplin tornado. She says the first step for parents when talking to their children about national or local tragedies is to engage them directly.

“Children will most likely not start the conversation,” she said. “Parents should talk to their kids about the shooting and things they are seeing on TV. Silence from the parents is a negative thing and suggests the events are too horrible to speak about and that the parent isn’t handling it well either.”

Mieseler says it is also important to ask the child what they already know about the event, because you may be surprised by their answer.

She notes that children pick up information from hearing adults talk, friends, listening to TV and through social media. The next step is to gently correct any misinformation they may have consumed.

“Sometimes kids pick up stuff from school or on the playground that is either not accurate, didn’t happen or is more exaggerated,” She said. “What you want to do is take the time to give them simple, clear, age-appropriate language that tells them what really did happen.”

She also recommends that you encourage your child to ask questions and that you answer those questions as honestly as you can. This will differ among age groups, but the most important thing is to be a role model for determining how to react to these types of situations.  

According to Mieseler, it is common for kids to become anxious or fearful when national tragedies occur. For older kids, they might become irritable or defiant because they can’t explain a feeling. Middle school kids are more likely to have nightmares, sleep problems, complaints about their stomach and physical pain. And young children might experience fear of separation from a parent or guardian.

“All of these things are very normal reactions and not anything you’d necessarily need to seek treatment for,” she said.

The last step is to be patient. Mieseler said if you are truly concerned about the child’s reaction, you should contact a physician, pediatrician or mental health professional to ask if the behavior is normal.

“We always need to focus kids on the positive,” she said.

She adds that it’s important to focus on the positive, mentioning stories of people giving blood, sending thoughts and prayers, and going out of their way to support victims. Miesler says that when parents feel good or can share positive stories it is easier for their kids to feel good, too.