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Children are often the first to experience emotional trauma from major tragic events such as the shooting we experienced here in Las Vegas.  We would like to offer some tips on how to support your child in dealing with this tragedy.

HOW TO TALK TO CHILDREN ABOUT THE LAS VEGAS SHOOTING TRAGEDY

Each of us, along with the rest of our community and country, are waking up and reacting to the aftermath of hearing the news of the horrific shooting that took place in our own backyard, here in Las Vegas.  A tragedy of this magnitude is likely to cause a variety of emotions, even for those not directly involved.  When it occurs close to home,  the feelings can be expected to be magnified.  

Please take a moment to read the information contained below as a guide to help yourselves and your children work through the variety of emotions that can accompany such a tragedy including sadness, grief, helplessness, anxiety, and anger.

Use the following techniques when talking to children regarding the tragedy:

Find times when they are most likely to talk, when they are calm and listening.  Let them know you are interested in them and how they are coping with the information they are getting.  Listen to their thoughts and point of view.  Don’t interrupt – allow them to express their ideas and understanding before you respond.  Remind them you are there for them to provide safety, comfort and support.

1.  Consider the age and developmental level of the child:

Very young children who are not likely to hear about the situation from others (siblings, friends, or peers at school) may not be aware of what took place and therefore may not need an adult to discuss it with them.  If a parent or caregiver suspects that the child may hear something, then it is much better for the discussion to come from the parent or caregiver directly.

School age children who are most certainly going to hear about it from other sources should hear from their parents or caregivers first if possible.

2.  When speaking to school age children:

Be honest.
Be direct.
Follow their lead.


Younger children will often be satisfied with a few basic facts.   Too many details may frighten and overwhelm them.  If this is the case, parents should reassure them as best they can and then keep the door open for the child to initiate more conversation.  If the child asks more questions, parents should give honest, simple answers.  It’s okay for an adult to say, “I don’t know.”

Some students may seem to "not react", or appear to not be effected by the news.   This is ok as well, and a child should not be "pushed" to feel any specific emotions. 

3.  When speaking to teenagers:

When talking to teenagers, moral and ethical issues are likely to come up, so be prepared to have more complicated discussions with them about topics such as:

Why someone would do something like this?
Religious questions (ex: “How could G-d let something like this happen?”)
What should happen to someone who does something like this?
Larger societal issue, such as gun control, etc.

4.  How to handle our own emotions:

Remember that parents and caregivers are models for their children.  If adults avoid the topic, it gives the message that we shouldn't discuss it, or that we are not able to.

It’s okay for parents to cry and to model for children that we all have emotional reactions.  This can help normalize the expression of emotion.  At the same time, parents and caregivers should pay attention to their own reactions.  Adults who are overwhelmed or having difficulty functioning should get support first so they can be there for their children and reassure them.

5.  Providing security:

When talking to children of any age, it is important to remind them that events such as this shooting in Las Vegas are extremely rare!

6.  When to be concerned:

It is important to keep in mind that when something of this magnitude occurs, some level of emotional reaction is to be expected.  This will vary by individual.  Normal reactions may include:

 - Tearfulness and sadness
 - Clinginess or a need for increased reassurance
 - Upsetting and frightening dream
 - Some separation anxiety


In most cases, some reassurance, support and sticking to normal routines and structure will be enough to help children cope following a tragedy.  

Children often deal with emotions - especially difficult ones, through play.  Acting out scenes they have heard about or witnessed, is completely normal.  Do not stop them from playing, rather listen to the words they are saying.  

Children are by nature, resilient.  They can and will bounce back and get through this tragedy with the help, love and support from those around them. 

If your child is not responding to the above, or if their academic or social functioning seems to be impaired, you may want to consider consulting with a mental health professional.

Dr. Kenneth Moskowitz, CEO Jewish Family Service Agency