Have a conversation: How to talk to your kids about traumatic news events in wake of shootings

Officers respond to the scene of the shooting in Dayton's Oregon District where a gunman killed 9 people. (WBNS)
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Tragedies like the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso can change a community forever.

But you don't have to experience such trauma directly to be impacted by it.

"Now we know — really starting with some of those big events like the Oklahoma City Bombing, 9/11 — we now know there is some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms that can happen even if you only witnessed video or coverage of that event on television," said Dr. Megan Schabbing, Medical Director of Psychiatric Emergency Services for OhioHealth.

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She says that can be even more true for children.

"It will be normal to have a feeling of anxiety or feeling stressed out or thinking, 'Wow, what if that were me or my family?' But when it turns into a change in sleep, a change in appetite, an inability enjoy things that you once enjoyed. For kids, it can be behavioral problems — social withdrawal, not talking, not reaching out."

The temptation might be to just change the channel and try to shield your children from the events altogether.

But Schabbing points out — the days where parents were the sole gatekeeper of your child's media exposure are long gone.

"That's why it's more important than ever that we have these conversations with our kids. Because your kids are gonna hear about something like this, one way or another. If it's on the news, even if kids aren't directly watching the news, kids are looking at YouTube. And now, they have access to videos that children never would have been able to see before."

"The best way to start the conversation is simply, 'What have you heard?' And then let your child tell you what he or she has heard, so that first and foremost, you can correct any misinformation. The next step is to say, 'Hey, do you have any questions?'"

She says younger children should be protected as much as possible from violent or graphic images.

"For older kids, teenagers, if you want to watch the news with them, they recommend you do that ahead of time. You record it, as the parent, preview the news segment, and then watch with your kid, so you can pause it at certain times and have discussion, answer their questions."

But with events so horrific, she says regardless of age, we should all talk to each other and look out for each other.

More advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics can be found here.