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Children need guidance to process tragic news

By Linda Breazeale
MSU Ag Communications

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- As news shows bombard the public with reports of senseless violence, young eyes are also watching as adults struggle to handle the information.

News of the mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut will receive tremendous coverage throughout the holiday season. Families may need help as the entire country recovers from the tragedy.

Cassandra Kirkland, a family life specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said violence at the level of the Dec. 14 school shooting is so rare that very few people will know how to handle it.

“Even adults may need help processing the situation. This sort of incident is scary for children and their parents,” she said. “Family discussions can help everyone work through their emotions.”

Tragic events can happen to families in any community. In many cases, Kirkland said professional counselors may be necessary for a healthy recovery.

“School counselors, pastors or family counselors can help people process their feelings,” she said.

Louise Davis, child and family development specialist with the MSU Extension Service, said parents should be available for their children and try to answer questions honestly but carefully.

“Don’t volunteer too much information. Avoid saturating their environment with media coverage of the tragedy or with conversations among adults. Don’t let them become overwhelmed with the news,” she said. “Take cues from the child. Sometimes they will ask the same questions over and over, so just keep your explanations simple.”

Davis said parents can encourage young children to draw pictures about their feelings. They may just need to be held and comforted. Reassure your child by increasing physical contact and making plans for doing some activities together.

“All children are different and process information and events differently,” she said. “Grieving is a process that is not predictable, and there is no right or wrong way. It also doesn’t have a timetable of when it is over.”

Davis said parents should encourage children to ask questions about loss and death.

“Try to not be anxious about having all the answers. Being willing to listen and help find answers is just as important,” she said.

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Released: December 14, 2012
Contact: Dr. Louise Davis, (662) 325-3083, and Dr. Cassandra Kirkland, (662) 325-0749