Saturday, January 20, 2018
Public safety

How parents here can talk to their kids about the Connecticut school shooting

Tampa Bay is 1,200 miles south of the Connecticut town where a man murdered 20 children at an elementary school Friday morning.

Nowadays, though, stories like this only feel far away on maps. They're brought to us every second through our TVs and our cellphones, our radios and our newspapers.

They surround us — and our kids.

Children here will inevitably learn about the killings.

So, when they ask their parents what happened at that school up North, what should parents do? Should they ignore their children? Should they tell them everything? Should they let them stay home from school if they're afraid?

The Tampa Bay Times turned to four local and national experts for answers:

Control yourself

Events like these traumatize parents, too. That's natural and expected. But, experts say, a parent's fear, anger and anxiety can transfer to a child. "I wouldn't lie to my kids about my feelings, but I would try to remain as calm as possible because kids feel your reaction," said New York psychologist and author Lawrence Balter.

Manage the media

"A part of the responsibility is to limit and control the access and exposure to the trauma," said Dr. Mark Cavitt, director of pediatric psychiatry at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. "That's critically important." Friday's massacre will dominate the media in the coming days and weeks. Experts say kids will eventually hear about the shooting, but hours of coverage is unhealthy for them — and adults.

Don't ignore it

"There's a tendency to want to suppress it," said V. Mark Durand, a psychology professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. "Talking about it helps. Not talking about it and trying to hide it doesn't help." Kristin Maier, director for the Child Life Department at All Children's Hospital, said it's also important that parents validate their kids' feelings and assure them that they're safe. "They're going to look to you as a parent," she said, "to find out is everything okay?"

Answer their questions, not yours

"Parents have a tendency to either avoid it or go into more detail than the kid really wants to know," Durand said. "This isn't a discussion for the parent to make them feel better. This is for the children." If your kids don't bring it up, Maier suggested asking a few open-ended questions to gauge how much they know and how concerned they are — "What have you already heard?" and "What questions do you have?" Regardless of what they ask, the answers should be simple and honest.

Some kids need more attention than others

Children who are anxious or who have experienced trauma before may be more vulnerable, Cavitt said. Parents should monitor for changes in their behavior including irritability, anger and sadness. Concerned parents should contact a doctor.

Send them back to school

Kids may be afraid to return, but according to the experts, staying home shouldn't be an option. "It's absolutely imperative," Cavitt said, "that they go back to school." Parents should explain how seldom these shootings occur and that schools are safe places. If kids are especially troubled, parents should inform their guidance counselors or other school officials who can keep an eye on them. Not going back won't make them feel better, Durand said. "It makes them feel safer at home and makes them more likely to want to avoid school," he continued. "It only increases their fear."

Times staff writers Danny Valentine, Curtis Krueger, Letitia Stein and researcher Natalie A. Watson contributed to this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at [email protected]

Comments

Bicyclist dead after being hit by car in Pinellas Park

PINELLAS PARK — A bicyclist is dead after he was hit by a car just before 10 a.m. Saturday morning, police said.Police were still investigating the crash in the 8700 block of 49th Street N late Saturday morning.Police shut down northbound 49th Street...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Motorcyclist crashes into Subaru while trying to flee Pinellas deputies

CLEARWATER — A 21-year-old fleeing from deputies on a motorcycle crashed into car while speeding away from a cruiser Friday, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Michael Brown, of Clearwater, was recklessly driving his 2016...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Clearwater man in critical condition after medical episode while driving

DUNEDIN — A 60-year-old Clearwater man who likely had a medical episode while driving is now in the hospital with life-threatening injuries after rolling over his car, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. A Largo police off...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Four people linked to Tampa carjacking captured hours later

TAMPA — It took officers just 27 minutes Friday night to capture four people who they said stole a car from its owner.The incident started outside the Ybor Coffee Shop at 5:45 a.m. A group approached the driver as he sat in his 2010 Toyota Corolla. T...
Published: 01/19/18

Florida National Guard soldier killed, five injured in Sebring crash

SEBRING — A soldier with the Florida National Guard was killed and five others were hospitalized after a multi-vehicle crash on Friday, officials said.The crash took place at about 1 p.m. at the intersection of U.S. 27 and Hammock Road.The soldiers ...
Published: 01/19/18
Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

NEW PORT RICHEY — Two New Port Richey men face charges after Pasco County deputies say they stole about $11,000 worth of cellphones and cellphone equipment at a Metro PCS store on State Road 54.Robert Jackson and Ronald Hartshorn were arrested Wednes...
Published: 01/19/18
Autopsy: drugs found in MLB star Roy Halladay’s system after plane crash

Autopsy: drugs found in MLB star Roy Halladay’s system after plane crash

When former Major League Baseball pitcher Roy Halladay died in a plane crash in November, he had amphetamines, morphine and the sleep aid zolpidem in his system, according to an autopsy report. Halladay, 40, died from blunt force trauma with drownin...
Published: 01/19/18
Former youth football president accused of stealing $29,000 from Pinellas league

Former youth football president accused of stealing $29,000 from Pinellas league

PALM HARBOR — The former president of a local youth football league is accused of stealing thousands of dollars from the group and using it in part to buy a mobile home.According to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, deputies on Tuesday arrested L...
Published: 01/19/18
Rapper Kodak Black arrested in Florida on grand theft, other charges

Rapper Kodak Black arrested in Florida on grand theft, other charges

FORT LAUDERDALE — Rapper Kodak Black has been ordered held without bail in Florida on seven felony charges that include child neglect and drug possession.The Broward Sheriff’s Office arrested the 20-year-old rapper, whose real name is Dieuson Octave,...
Published: 01/19/18
DUI arrest: Tampa man mistakes bank drive-through for Taco Bell

DUI arrest: Tampa man mistakes bank drive-through for Taco Bell

SPRING HILL — A 38-year-old Tampa man was arrested Wednesday on a charge of driving under the influence involving drugs or alcohol after deputies said he mistook a Bank of America drive-through for a Taco Bell.The branch manager of the Mariner Boulev...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18