In the aftermath of last Friday’s tragic shooting, the most important thing a person can do for kids is tell them they’re loved and hug them.
That’s according to Therese Horvat and Randy Callstrom with the Wyandot Center, a community mental health center serving children and adults in Kansas City, Kan.
NPR has previously reported on what advice medical experts have for talking with kids.
Horvat and Callstrom offer these ten tips for when talking with children about the tragedy:
- Stay calm and be reassuring when talking with kids. They need to know adults care about them and are working to keep them safe.
- Keep the daily routine as much as possible. Kids are reassured by routine.
- Create an open and supportive environment where children know they can ask questions.
- Use age-appropriate levels of information and language when explaining or responding to kids’ questions (see below for more specific information).
- Acknowledge the child’s thoughts, feelings, questions and reactions.
- Minimize exposure to media reports that may be frightening, confusing or extremely sad (like the funerals that are now starting to happen).
- Express concern for the victims and their families.
- Watch for changes in the child’s behavior. If problems persist, seek professional help.
- Lean on others and your faith for your own personal support during this difficult time.
- Love and hug your kid today and everyday.
Horvat and Callstrom say it’s best not to force kids to talk about things unless they are ready, but it’s also important to let them know someone is there to talk with them and hear them out. While there’s no right or wrong way to talk with children about such events, Horvat and Callstrom offer the following suggestions for talking with children of different ages.
- Under age 7 – Don’t share information unless they know about the shooting. It’s best if they do not know. If they do know and ask questions, answer only the question they are asking and answer in little kid terms. They do not need details.
- 8 to 12 years – Let them take the lead. What are their questions? Clarify and answer questions but do not dwell on them. Provide simple answers and reassure the kids that they are safe.
- 13 and above – Let them lead. Answer their questions. Ask them what questions this raises for them.
The Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration also has a guide to talking with kids of different ages.
Regardless of a child’s age, Horvat and Callstrom suggest giving children honest answers and information in language they can understand. Mostly likely, a person will need to repeat information and explanations several times.