KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — How does anyone explain something unimaginable to a young child? Children too young to understand mortality are now being faced with news of a massacre in a Texas school. Parents are helping children understand some of the emotions related to death, vulnerability and fear they could be feeling.
An 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two adults after shooting at a Uvalde elementary school. Most of the students there were Hispanic, and their families may not have access to professional mental health care to help them process grief and fury.
Children may ask questions about the event, and the McNabb Center in Knoxville offered some tips for parents trying to answer them. First, they recommended giving kids a chance to talk about what happened. They said children should feel at ease putting their thoughts in words, knowing they have support.
While parents may instinctively try to discourage big emotions like fear and anger, the McNabb Center children need to be allowed to feel those things. Parents should support whatever emotion they may have, helping the child understand it is a real and valid response to the news.
Parents also need to come to a conversation capable of calmly discussing hard topics they may not think their children are ready for. They may need to talk about death, violence, mortality or even community. Children may ask how the shooting can change the community, or nation.
After speaking with the child, adults should continue keeping an eye on them. They may start behaving differently and may return to adults with more questions later.
If the child seems to start struggling emotionally, such as by acting out in increasingly frequent or more intense ways, or if they start to neglect relationships with friends or family, adults may want to find professional help for them.
They can reach out to the McNabb Center for help by calling 1-800-255-9711. People can also reach out to them online.