Talk to Your Kids About the Recent Violence

ByABC News
October 4, 2006, 12:27 PM

Oct. 4, 2006 — -- While an Amish community in Pennsylvania mourns the tragic loss of five schoolgirls in the recent schoolhouse shooting, experts warn that parents everywhere must do what they can to help their children cope with such tragedies, which they often learn about for the first time on TV.

"With random acts of violence, especially those that are seen on television, the immediacy of the event can be bewildering to children, and the visual imagery can be haunting," says Dr. Nancy Rappaport, director of school programs at Cambridge Health Alliance and assistant professor psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School.

Two other school shootings shook the nation last week.

On Sept. 30, a 15-year-old student shot and killed the principal of a Wisconsin high school, and on Sept. 27, a gunman killed a girl after taking six students hostage at a Colorado school.

After seeing reports like this on TV, how can parents make their children feel safe again? By talking to them. Some kids may seem OK, but parents should still talk to their children, experts say.

Parents must understand that while children may be profoundly affected by what they see on television and elsewhere in the media, they may not communicate their fears to their parents, says Rappaport.

Children may show their fears in other ways, such as in a reluctance to go to school. Parents need to recognize these signs and start ongoing discussions with their children so these violent events won't continue to interfere with their lives.

Parents should tell their children that events like school shootings are incredibly rare.

"Children have no sense of probability. For an event that's reported in the news, they don't know how often it actually occurs." says Dr. Jacqueline Olds, a psychiatrist at McClean Hospital and an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Children will see coverage of the events in papers and on TV, so it is important for parents to emphasize the rarity of these events. Parents can limit their children's exposure to newspapers and television so they aren't flooded by the news.