SEATTLE — Despite parents' best efforts, protecting children from horrible headlines may be an impossible task.
Psychologists recommend open conversations about the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school that left at least 19 children and two adults dead on Tuesday and, above all else, reassuring children that they are safe.
In the wake of tragedy, it is often our youngest that ask the most difficult questions.
“This is going to be a tough day for a lot of parents and a lot of kids,” said Dr. Amy Mezulis, a professor of clinical psychology at Seattle Pacific University.
Mezulis is encouraging parents to speak with their children about Tuesday’s shooting.
“Parents should control the conversation with kids,” explained Mezulis. “They should initiate the conversation. Ask kids what they know. What they’ve heard. Tell them about it so that the parents have some opportunity to shape the conversation because they know their kids best.”
Each age will bring a different challenge. Experts recommend a news blackout for kids under 7 years old, while teens may gain the most from expressing their thoughts as they work through complex emotions.
“I would encourage parents to be thoughtful about what TV or radio they have on for a couple of days because very quickly we can get images or sounds or talking points that could be very difficult for the ears of a 6-year-old or 8-year-old or 10-year-old to understand and process,” said Mezulis.
The harsh reality is there is no one solution, nor a magic phrase to help children cope with tragedy. A listening ear and a reminder of safety can make all the difference.
For adults who are coping, Laura Richer, a licensed mental health counselor in Seattle, urged people to acknowledge their feelings and not minimize feelings of anxiety.
“Even if they didn’t directly experience what happened in Texas, there is still an anxiety that a place where you go every day – like I said a place where you have this presumption of safety to go do you job – that that isn’t really true,"
Richer said. "And that can trigger feelings of hopelessness or helplessness."
Richer anytime feelings of depression or hopelessness become unmanageable, people should seek professional help. Signs could include sleeplessness, withdrawing from normal activity, becoming hypervigilant or replaying traumatic events in your head.
Washington state Superintendent Chris Reykdal released a statement Tuesday on gun violence in America.
"Hold your children close tonight. Talk to them. Know that we have taken substantial measures to keep our schools safe, but our best efforts are not perfect. The research is clear - guns in homes equals more murders, suicides, and accidental shootings of family members," said Reykdal.
Reykdal joined KING 5 Mornings on Wednesday and expanded on his statement.
"You know about our drills that we do on a monthly basis. We've done the policy steps that are quote-unquote, easy to try to avoid this,” said Reykdal. “We are way beyond the ‘what can we do incrementally?’ in schools with this level of armed individual.”
Reykdal said it's his job as an educator to keep telling families about the dangers of keeping a firearm in their homes.
"What I have to keep doing is, being an educator," Reykdal said. "You are statistically and dramatically more likely to lose your own life in a domestic violence dispute, to lose your own life to an accident, and sadly, contribute to the 100 school-aged children who take their own lives every year, and die by suicide because there's a firearm accessible in the home. They just aren't safe in most homes."