Colorado shootings: Parents need to talk to their kids about it

We can imagine our kids in that theater, no?

“The Dark Knight Rises” was a giddily anticipated PG-13 spectacle. By definition, the opening night in Aurora, Colo., was filled with typical American teens.

Most of our older kids can also probably imagine themselves inside what became a death trap.

That’s why talking to children about what happened is so important, experts say.

“You do, as a parent, have responsibility to talk to them about it,” said Paul Coleman, a New York-based therapist and author of several books on anxiety, trauma and communicating with children, including “How To Say It to Your Child When Bad Things Happen,” (Prentice Hall, 2002)
People bow in a moment of silence requested by President Obama for the victims of the Colorado shootings at an event in Fort Myers, Fla., on Friday. (Kevin Lamarque – Reuters)

Coleman said that most kids, older and younger, would have heard at least a glimmer about what happened in Colorado. Younger kids may hear a snatch of the TV news or an adult discussion. Older kids are too connected to miss the flurry of online and social network commentary.

The first step for parents in broaching the subject, he said, is to “not assume anything.”

“First thing,” he said, “Ask them what they’ve heard. Ask them if they’re upset. Don’t assume they are upset or they are dismissing it. Probe first.”

He said the 12 and under set are most likely to process the events as a personal danger — how will they affect “me and my family?”

With them, Coleman said, “Parents needs to be reassuring as possible. They need to know that we, as parents, are not going to put them in any place we think is dangerous. We can tell them that movie theaters will have extra precautions. They can trust us.”

Older kids are far better at abstract thinking and will understand that while places might take precautions, there is no guarantee that they’ll be safe, he said.

Parents also need to be reassuring with them and let them know that the parents will still get up and go to work, they will keep going. At the same time, parents can show legitimate concern, but any fear or anxiety a parent has should be managed. “If kids sense that a parent is scared, then they really get scared,” he said

It’s also important to circle back several times — especially since this is a story that’s likely to stay in the news for a while — asking if the child has heard anything new and if he has any more questions or concerns.

Even if a child says something innocuous about the events, he said, a parent would do best to take that as a cue to talk. There might be something going on under the surface.

“A lot of parents presume their kids aren’t worried or upset and they don’t want to upset them by talking about it,” he said.

But avoiding the subject might give the child the impression that the parents don’t want to talk about it. “And then they’re left to their own imaginations.”


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