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How to talk to your kids about tragedy following Texas school shooting

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The mass shooting in Texas has left so many parents around the country facing some difficult discussions with their own children.

Mental health experts say if you’re not talking to your kids about it, other people are. Alice Nuttall, Associate Vice President of Behavioral Health Services at Lakeland Regional Health is helping parents navigate this trying time when it comes to talking to your kids about violence.

“If they say I’m worried about a bad man coming into my school, “don’t say oh, don’t worry about that,” Nuttall said. “No matter what their feeling is about it, say, ‘I understand.’ You have to validate them.”

Nuttall said parents first should check in on their emotions, then initiate conversations with their kids depending on their age and stress tolerance.

“First just explore. Have they heard anything about it? Then they may say no, I don’t know anything about it,” she said. “That’s where you have to make a decision as a parent about what is age-appropriate for your child.”

For elementary kids, Nuttall said to ask them lead-in questions and guide the conversation.

“For a small child, I heard something really sad happened at a school where people died and got hurt,” she said. “What do you know about that? Do you have any feelings? Give them some time. If they don’t really want to talk much more about it, then your closing is, ‘I want you to know, I’m always here if you have more questions or want to talk about it. But remember, you are safe here at home.’”

For middle and high schoolers, parents can show vulnerability.

“I’m really struggling with this as a parent. Drop off this morning was hard for me, the car line was hard. With older kids, you’re teaching them how to handle really hard, big emotions in a healthy way.”

Nuttall said parents model behaviors to their kids every day.

“Big and scary feelings for kids and adults are less scary when we share them with another person,” she said.

To parents asking if they should keep their kid home from school, Nuttall said every child is different based on how they are processing the tragedy.

“Generally speaking, if you keep your child home from school for fear or worry about something like this, it has the potential to reinforce fear of going back to school,” she said.

When a child is facing extreme stress or anxiety, kids can’t often put into words on how they’re feeling, so they may act out or have troubles sleeping. If these behaviors continue for weeks, parents will want to call your child’s pediatrician or primary care doctor so they can connect you with mental health resources.

People can also call the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay by calling 211.

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