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‘It keeps happening’: How and when to talk with your kids about mass shootings

A central Ohio child psychologist shares advice on how to help children cope without creating unnecessary anxiety.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Another tragedy. Another story about helping parents talk with their kids about the unthinkable.

This time it’s about a shooting that happened at a place where families were together. Children are supposed to feel safe with their parents and caregivers.

To help your family talk about this, 10TV interviewed Dr. Parker Huston, a clinical child psychologist, and father.

He said as a parent himself, his concern is that his two children are now exposed to coverage of these events on a repeated basis.

“It's only a matter of time until the reassurance that I can give them isn't going to make as much of a difference when they start saying, ‘well, I know you're saying that it's okay. But it keeps happening. I keep seeing it.’”

And that’s why Dr. Huston says it’s important to keep the lines of communication open.

We know it’s important to communicate with our children if they saw or heard anything – but how often is too often? Dr. Huston said it depends on the age of your child or children. However, he says these are conversations that have to happen more often now than ever before.

“It used to be that this was a rare event and that, you know, it would be a big moment, and we would focus on it for a period of time. And then there would be a break in between. And so we would have maybe one conversation about it with our kids. But now, anyone who watches or reads or listens to the news is confronted with this very frequently,” he said.

Should families have a game plan?

“We have to be ready for it,” he said. “It's ‘if this were to happen, let's be ready for it.’ Same thing as fire safety, same thing as tornado safety. It's just that these other things happen to be perpetrated by another human being and not by mother nature or physics.”

How do we avoid creating unnecessary anxiety?

“The really detail-oriented conversations about specific dangers that might happen, especially when it comes to someone committing an act of public violence, the safety plans can be a little bit more generic,” he said. “If anything were to happen and we were to get separated, here's what we would do’ versus ‘if someone starts shooting and open up fire, here's what we do.’ Those conversations have the same outcome of them knowing what to do in an emergency situation, but they have a very different connotation in a kid's mind.”

One final note from Dr. Huston, he shares the same advice as Mr. Rogers – look for the helpers. Helping your child or children find the positives in the negative can be really helpful for them.

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