After Cleveland, how to talk to kids about kidnapping

A girl adds a balloon outside the home of Gina DeJesus Thursday, May 9, 2013, in Cleveland. Ariel Castro, the man accused of raping and kidnapping DeJesus and 2 other women, who were missing for about a decade before being found alive at his home, was ordered held Thursday on $8 million bail. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

WASHINGTON – The kidnapping, detainment and abuse of three women in Cleveland horrified anyone who learned about it.

For parents, a familiar dilemma soon resurfaced: How should we talk to our kids?

The traumatic accounts are nearly unavoidable, much like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the Boston bombing.

“One thing that I strongly suggest to parents is to ask [their kids] what they already know,” says Elizabeth Adams, a child clinical psychologist based in D.C.

Even if shielded from the most unsettling details at home, children are likely to hear details at school or with friends.

Adams recommends a couple responses. The first is to review the basics about staying safe.

“Have a conversation about not talking to strangers, how to stay in groups, making sure an adult is around, and really helping them recognize signals that they might have where they feel uncomfortable,” she says.

Depending on their exposure to the most unsettling details, children may need extra attention.

“Children might display some additional attachment needs, meaning they might look to their parents for additional comfort in this time,” says Adams. “So parents can hug their kids a little bit tighter.”

She says affirmation is key, both physical — like with the hugs — and verbal.

Adams encourages parents to give their kids frequent reminders.

“Even though this has happened, the adults in their life that care for them are keeping an extra eye out for them,” she says.

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