Q & A: How kids and parents should deal with tragedy

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SALT LAKE CITY — The school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that took the lives of 20 children, 6 adults plus the shooter is horrific - unimaginable - but families across the country have to recognize it as a rare event that didn't happen where they live, a child psychologist said.

Such is the tall task for parents and their children, who have watched hours of news coverage of the tragedy on TV - or heard it on the radio or read it online.

Schools are usually considered safe places where young people can learn, but a shooting like this shakes people to the core.

The Children's Center executive director Doug Goldsmith spoke to KSL Friday about how parents can help their children understand the mass shooting, and how the children who experienced the nightmare firsthand might be treated.

How are kids involved in the tragedy treated?

"What we learned from Columbine is it actually took those kids about a year before they settled down and were ready to get into mental health therapy," Goldsmith said.

Until then, Goldsmith said, the focus was likely on the children receiving support from their families and clergy.

What are Utah's parents saying about the tragedy?
"As a parent, it's devastating to imagine what those parents are going through today…Anyone who has a child knows this has got to be the worst nightmare. So I just pray for those families." - Andrea Stolfa

"Your heart just breaks for those that have been hurt by this tragedy." - Becky Jorgensen

"It makes me sick. Those poor families. I hope they get comfort." - Alisa Chytraus

"Immediately you feel vulnerable because you know it could happen to any of us. Here I am picking my kids up at elementary school and it could happen to them. It could be this school. you have no control over that." - Trisha Anderson

"I've got 750 students. You worry. You put plans in place. You do everything you can to keep kids safe and every once in a while bad things happen." - Frank Schofield, Principal of Sunrise Elementary

Kids predisposed to anxiety probably needed immediate treatment with the aid of counselors and other professionals, he said. Representatives from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network would likely be on scene.

How can kids feel safe again?

One of the primary goals, Goldsmith said, is to help the students in Connecticut feel safe at school again.

"They would probably put up extra precautions around that campus to make sure the kids feel safe and parents can feel safe and send their kids back," he said.

As far as traumatic experiences for children go, Goldsmith called this type of event "extreme."

"Not only were they in a safe place, they got invaded," Goldsmith said. "That's the worst thing that can happen to any of us."

It's also important that kids feel in control again, according to kidpower.org. That could be as simple as letting kids decide what to have for dinner or what movie to see.

It's also important to be a good role model by maintaining control of your own reactions and emotions on the tragedy.

How should parents deal with these events themselves?

Goldsmith said sometimes the inclination of parents is to internalize a tragic story as something that could happen to their children.

But first and foremost, these kinds of events are rare.

Flags flying at half-mast until Tues. Dec. 18.
Gov. Gary R. Herbert ordered all flags on state-owned facilities to be flown at half-staff Friday in honor of the victims of the Newtown, Conn., shooting.

"We've really got to settle ourselves down with that," Goldsmith said. "It's not happening across the nation. It's not happening at every school."

How should parents approach the topic with their kids?

Dealing with children at home who have viewed coverage of the school shooting provides a different set of circumstances.

It's always a good idea to stay clam and be in charge of the situation, according to kidpower.org. Children are very sensitive to the emotional state of the adults in their life.

Goldsmith said parents should talk about the tragedy as it is - a tragedy - and they shouldn't avoid the topic.

Goldsmith said it's unrealistic in this day in age to try to shelter children when information is so readily available on smart phones in their hands and the hands of other kids.

Goldsmith also pointed to the tragedy as an educational opportunity when it comes to safety.

"It's important for parents to say ‘if you see things that are scary or unusual, you need to tell somebody,'" Goldsmith said.

"If you hear kids talking about things that are frightening, you've got to tell somebody. That has really helped stop some of these incidents around the country when children have gone to the principal and said ‘what I heard my classmates say.' We need to see that is effective."

Kidpower.org also says it may be necessary to take charge of the media your kids consume. They may be focusing too much on viewing or reading about the tragedy, which could make things more difficult for your child.


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Andrew Adams and Kathryn May


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