Expert tips on talking to kids about school shootings

(WSVN) - There was overwhelming pain in Parkland, Thursday night, as thousands gathered to remember the victims of the school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High.

Tragedies like this one are difficult for children to process. That’s why experts say the best thing parents can do to help them cope is talk about it.

Kristin Kanner is just one of thousands of nervous Broward parents who sent kids off to school this morning.

Kristin Kanner, parent: “You know, I’m apprehensive. It’s that same sort of 9-11 feeling that you have no control.”

Her 16-year-old twins Ryan and Lindsay are juniors at Fort Lauderdale High School.

Kristin Kanner: “I thought it was important that they go to school today at least to be around their friends, for people to draw a little bit of comfort in their same age group.”

It was a difficult morning for everybody.

Ryan Kanner: “It was hard, honestly. You know, after hearing some of my friends’ friends have died, it’s hard to hear, and you don’t know what to expect the next day.”

Licensed mental health counselor Sara Elysee says it’s important for kids to talk to each other and to parents after a tragedy like the Douglas shooting.

Sara Elysee, counselor: “Create that open dialogue with them, allow them to speak and validate their feelings, ask them how they are feeling.”

Kids seeing images of children cowering in classrooms can create fear.

She says to let kids know you’re there to listen and support them, and to seek help if their anxiety persists.

Sara Elysee: “Even if it’s for a couple of sessions so you can be able to help and process that anxiety and learn coping skills to be able to process what’s going on.”

Ryan and Lindsay were only gone for a few hours Thursday when the school sent out a code yellow alert.

Kristin Kanner: “They had to stay locked in their classroom.”

But Thursday’s alert was just a precaution. When it was over, the kids headed home early.

Lindsay Kanner: “I was just super anxious. I just always hope going out the door that we’ll be coming back through the door, but you never know.”

But talking it out with her mother is reassuring.

Lindsay Kanner: “I think that talking to my parents and to my teachers about it will really help, and to my guidance councelors — our school set up grief counselors for us.”

For Ryan, he says open lines of communication and greater awareness of the people around you is key.

Ryan Kanner: “I guess one day at a time, honestly. I mean, that’s all you can do at this point.”

Experts say it’s also important to remember the healing process is not instant. The grieving process takes time.

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