As the nation grapples with a series of tragic events, including the recent mass shooting in Maine, parents are faced with the challenge of discussing these unsettling incidents with their children. The impact of such events can be especially profound on young minds. To navigate these conversations effectively, Action News consulted with Dr. Jessica Kendorski, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of School Psychology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), for guidance.
The prevalence of actual footage and graphic images in the media has made it increasingly difficult for both adults and children to process these distressing events. Dr. Kendorski emphasizes that kids may experience a wide range of emotions triggered not only by incidents like the Maine shooting but also by violence occurring around the world.
Children exposed to such incidents may feel fear, a sense of loss of control, and sometimes even anger. They may personalize these tragedies, believing that similar events could happen to them or in their community. Dr. Kendorski points out that this compounding effect, where one traumatic event follows another, can intensify these emotional responses.
However, it’s crucial to remember that not every child needs to know every detail. Dr. Kendorski recommends that parents tailor their discussions to the child’s age and level of understanding. For younger children, such as those in kindergarten to second grade, parents can start by asking simple questions like, “How was school today? Did you hear anything unusual?” This approach allows parents to gauge what their child knows and provide age-appropriate information accordingly.
Dr. Kendorski advises that parents allow their child’s questions to guide the conversation while offering reassurance. It’s important to convey that, for the most part, they are safe. Additionally, parents should be cautious about the information their children consume, especially on social media. Exposure to graphic images and videos can exacerbate the psychological impact of these events.
Older children may require more information and an opportunity to engage in discussions that make them feel like part of a solution. Dr. Kendorski emphasizes the importance of fostering compassion and emphasizing our shared humanity to minimize suffering for everyone.
While most children will process these events with support from their families, some may require professional help if they exhibit signs of distress. Dr. Kendorski highlights warning signs such as isolation, fear of leaving the house, changes in eating and sleeping habits, or any unusual behavior that parents might identify as out of character for their child. In such cases, consulting a therapist may be necessary.
Parents seeking additional resources and guidance can turn to organizations like the National Association of School Psychologists and PCOM for assistance in helping their children cope with recent tragic events.