Child psychiatrist: talking to kids about terror

WASHINGTON — The images and sounds of the mass shooting in Orlando are all around us. And many parents are now dealing with the dilemma of explaining the horrific event to their children.

“Unfortunately, there are sad and terrible things that happen in our lives, and children are not immune to being exposed to these sorts of things,” said Dr. Paramjit Joshi, chief of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Children’s National Health System.

She says begin by acknowledging what they have seen and heard, and let them lead the conversation, rather than the adults.

“I think it is a mistake to cover it up,” Joshi said, adding it is important to listen to their questions carefully, even if there are no easy answers.

If a child asks, “Why did this happen?” she said it’s OK to respond with a simple, “I don’t know.”

Joshi says it’s also a good idea to watch television coverage with your kids, especially if they seem fixated on the tragedy.

“It gives you an opportunity to have a conversation rather than having the child left to his or her own imagination,” she said.

That is especially important if you are dealing with young children who will see the same video at different times of the day and think an event is happening over and over again.

Joshi says to offer comfort and reassurance as you try to make sense of a totally senseless act of violence.

“One of the things I would say is just like there are so many good people in this world who do so many good things, there are people in the world who do bad things,” she said.

And if you do get emotional and shed a tear or two around your children, that’s all right too.

“It makes you more human. You don’t want to overdo it, especially with the younger children, but it is important for them to know ‘Yes, I am sad and it is upsetting.'”

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