Mental health professionals offer advice on discussing tragedy with children

Mental health professionals offer advice on discussing tragedy with children
Published: May. 25, 2022 at 3:36 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - In the wake of a tragic school shooting in Texas, mental health professionals in the Cape Fear region offer advice to parents on how to discuss these types of events with their children.

Kristina Clemmons with Coastal Horizons says it can be difficult for younger children to understand the reality of so many kids losing their lives, and their questions might be different compared with older students.

“I think that parents have to use the age-appropriate language,” Clemmons said. “So, you’re not going to have the same conversation with your high-schooler that you are with your kindergartner, versus your middle-schooler. The questions are going to be different and how you respond are going to be different.”

Clemmons says giving your child a space to express themselves and ask questions can help them to bounce back since kids tend to have stronger emotional resiliency.

“Luckily enough, they’re pretty resilient, and they’re going to live in a little bit more of a bubble when they’re littler than that,” said Clemmons. “Where older kids are going to have more head-on questions, the harder questions.”

Experts recommend limiting your child’s exposure to social media since it can contribute to fear and uneasy feelings.

“We don’t want them to be scared every day,” Clemmons said. “But, the more that they hear, the more that they do worry, and so we always definitely say limit, control what you can. Definitely be honest with them if they have questions, but let’s not expose them to more than what we have to.”

New Hanover County has therapists in just about every school to help children deal with these hard-to-understand situations.

“Be open. Talk to them, listen to them, validate their feelings, really hear what they are experiencing and how it affects them,” said Trey Willis, New Hanover County School Mental Health Supervisor.

Willis says social media is another example of why its important for parents to reach out to their kids to find out if they are understanding what happened.

“They are going to either hear things from peers or classmates or see things on social media and, so, being able to have those conversations and sit down, especially with kids who may be a little bit older, and go ‘Hey, what do you know about this?’ and help them understand and clear up any misconceptions or questions that they may have,” Willis said.

The Coastal Horizons Center offers mental health resources. To learn more about the resources available to you, click here.

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