In the days following the shooting in Parkland, Florida, we as adults have struggled to understand the tragedy. We have grappled with fears, sadness and disbelief. We have seen the face of evil and it has shaken us to our core. It has also shaken our children as they also struggle to comprehend the incomprehensible.

As parents, we have to help our children process tragedy.

Our tendency is to shield our children, avoid talking about things, because we hope that they have not heard about them or been affected. The problem with that approach, says Niechalle Freestone, a school psychologist with Spartanburg School District 6, is that we don't always have control over what our kids see and hear.

“In most cases, they have seen or heard something, or they will hear something,” she said. “The biggest thing in these situations is to make time to have conversations. If you are silent, the silence fosters fear and anxiety. It is like saying that it is too scary to talk about.”

Dr. Trey Kuhne, clinical director for Pathways Pastoral Counseling in Spartanburg, agrees. He suggests family meetings every couple of weeks to check in with kids and get children talking.

As you begin to talk, let the children lead the conversation, Freestone advices.

“Give them a chance to tell you what they know about the situation,” she said.

Following a tragedy, kids will have many emotions.

“Some will be angry, some will be afraid and others will be upset,” Freestone said. “Let them know that whatever they are feeling is normal and OK. Allow them the safety of sharing it with you so that you can work through the emotion together.”

For the youngest children, that conversation might be as simple as reassuring them that they are safe and talking about who they can go to if they feel afraid.

While parents are sometimes reluctant to share their own emotions with their children, Freestone suggests acknowledging your feelings.

“You can say, this is a very sad day for mom. My heart hurts for them too,” she said. “Lead by example. Be honest about your feelings and show children how you deal with them.”

She cautions parents to avoid oversharing though.

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