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Discussing a tragedy with your children

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SALT LAKE CITY — The tragic movie theater shooting Friday in Aurora, Colo., that left 12 dead us a tough story for children to process. Wasatch Therapy family therapist Julie Hanks says there are the facts of this story, and then there are the feelings surrounding it.

"It's really important to remember kids can't process the same kind of information we can," Hanks told KSL News.

The first point she wants parents to take away: they have a responsibility to protect their children.

"I think it's important to tell your small children as little as possible," Hanks said. Turn off the barrage of news. It's good for adults to keep up on it, but kids don't need to see it. So if you wouldn't take your kid to a movie with this type of violence, they shouldn't be watching it on TV, or on the News."

Tips for discussing tragedy with children
  • Children need comforting and frequent reassurance that they're safe make sure they get it.
  • Be honest and open about the tragedy or disaster.
  • Encourage children to express their feelings through talking, drawing or playing.
  • Try to maintain your daily routines as much as possible.
Source: Mental Health America

That includes social media, like Facebook and Twitter.

"Social media can actually fuel the fear and the terror — that's the downside. The upside is it's a place to process. We all need to talk about it, talk about our emotions and our fears. And so I think we need to balance that," Hanks said.

While feelings of fear are normal, Hanks said focusing on more powerful emotions can be healing.

"The only thing that is stronger than fear is love and compassion," she said. "So it's a great time to reach out and support the victims, support the community that has been traumatize by this."

Hanks acknowledged there is also a feeling of powerlessness that can set it. She suggests combating that in action.

Do something positive: it can be something as simple as telling your loved ones how much you care, offering a prayer if you are a person of faith, or donating money to the victims, if that feels right to you. And let your kids in on those opportunities as well.

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Brooke Walker


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