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‘Hatred doesn’t steal our hope’: Helping children understand, cope with Texas school shooting

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Difficult conversations about school shooting – May 25, 2022

It’s an unspeakable tragedy, but it’s one experts say needs to be spoken about, especially with children.

Nineteen students and three adults were killed Tuesday during a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, authorities say. The shooter also died.

Read more: At least 21 dead after shooting at Texas elementary school: officials

Carolyn Klassen, a therapist with Conexus Counselling, says discussing something so dark with those so young is a difficult task.

“I think as parents, we have the responsibility of teaching our children all they need to know about as they grow up,” Klassen told Global News.

“We have the gift of teaching them about all the beautiful, the lovely, and the creative, and then we also have the burden of teaching them about the ugly and painful parts of this world. And that’s an inevitable part that all children have to learn about.”

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She says the latest shooting may be a topic that parents prefer to shield their children from, but she advises against that.

“Here’s the thing, if we as parents don’t teach them, then what we as parents are actually teaching them is ‘don’t talk to your parents about it, just talk to your friends and listen to the news,'” she said.

“To not talk about it with them is to miss an opportunity to support them over something that they need support for.”

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She says parents should discuss tragic events with their children in an open and safe manner.

“The conversation itself is not scary, even though the content is scary,” she said.

She also recommends parents ask children if they heard about it online or discussed it at school, and she recommends limiting the amount of news on the TV or radio while the kids are around.

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Read more: Texas school shooting victims trapped in class, official says as families mourn losses

Jay Greenfeld, a clinical psychologist with Mind Matters Clinic, says the conversations need to be age-appropriate as well. For younger children, that means keeping the conversations short.

“You got to keep it simple but you want to focus on who is helping in the situation,” Greenfeld said.

“So after a tragedy like this, who are the saviours, who are the heroes here, who are the helpers here? – (the) police and fire departments and those kinds of folks – so that they sort of see this as there’s a tragedy and these are the people that can help. You want to keep this innocence in their head that those folks are still helpful.”

He says with older youth and teenagers, it’s important to gauge how much they know about the topic and ensure they are not suffering in silence.

“You want to get an understanding of what their baseline is, what their feelings are, and that they understand the importance of talking about their feelings,” Greenfeld said.

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Klassen also says it’s important to balance the dark with the light.

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“I would encourage you to be constructive with your children about creating hope as we experience this horrific (act) of hatred, that they write a letter to a child in Texas, that they do something nice for a neighbour,” Klassen said. “That you together with them do something that feels hopeful and creates hope and that announces to them that they are in a place of love and in a place of creating love in a world that won’t always be; in a world that will often have tragedy, that they can be a force to create good.”

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