A mother hugs her daughter following a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northeast of New York City, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/The New Haven Register, Melanie Stengel)

5 tips on how to talk to your kids about the Connecticut school shooting

In the wake of the school shooting today at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 27 people were killed, including 20 children and several staff members, many parents are worried about how to deal with the traumatic incident with their children.

Dr. Monica Shahbaznia Alvarez, a clinical psychologist with a private practice in family and child psychotherapy, says she’s been receiving calls from parents wondering how to handle the issue when their children come home from school today, as well as from parents who are overwhelmed with grief themselves and want to know the best way to calm down.

Here are 5 tips she recommends:

1. Parents should find support amongst adults: Talk to adult friends and mental health professionals if you are experiencing significant distress about this shooting. Don’t scare your kids by talking to them about your own trauma — especially if they are too little to handle it. Use age-appropriate language.

2. Showing you are empowered can help you reduce your grief: Oftentimes, tragedies leave adults feeling helpless. When we feel helpless, we feel overwhelmed by our pain. But adults can remember that they can also take action to counteract the helplessness they might feel in a tragedy like this. For example, they can do something in the community – come up with a meeting about the event, they can call their mayor, their senators, or their President to voice their concern.

3. Don’t project your own feelings on your child: A lot of parents are going to want to embrace their children today. They’ll want to give them a tight hug with tears in their eyes. When you do that, you don’t want to add more grief to your child. They are probably playing in their schoolyard, and are okay. It might be comforting knowing you can have your child in your arms, but it’s important to not project your own feelings on your child if your child is not feeling that anguish. Let them bring it up, and then talk about it.

4. It’s important to know what your child can handle for their age: If you feel like your child is a nervous child, maybe don’t expose them to the newsreel, because that could contribute to the nerves of your child and give them nightmares. It’s important for parents to let their children know that they always have a place to go to talk. If they are feeling beyond the natural grief and sadness, they should consult with a mental professional/child and adolescent psychologist in their community.

5. Today provides an opportunity to call a family meeting to discuss safety: Talk to children about safety in general. There are a lot of children who accidentally shoot themselves because of guns that are not locked up. The chances of school shootings are increasing now, and even though the chances that it will happen in your school is very minimal, it’s very important to tell your children if they do see a gun to stay away from it and to alert an adult immediately. It’s a good day to brush up on all issues of safety at the dinner table — not only guns in someone’s house, but not to go anywhere with strangers, what to do in an earthquake, etc.

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