The mass shooting in Las Vegas is dominating the media news cycle. Since the tragedy Sunday night, TV news and social media have displayed a continuous stream of images and video of the chaotic scene at the Highway 91 Harvest Festival that left at least 59 dead.
But exposure to those images can be traumatic for children, and it leaves many parents wondering how to explain the shooting to their children. For parents of small children, it's easier - a simple change of the channel should do it. But for school age children, especially middle and high school students, a tragedy like Las Vegas is impossible to avoid. Christine Montgomery is vice president of clinical and community based services at Clifford Beers Clinic, which serves children who have experienced trauma. She said parents should look for tell tale signs that their child may have been traumatized by what they have seen or heard on the news.
“Kids may have a hard time paying attention and concentrating,” Montgomery said, “They may be a bit more irritable. They may have trouble separating from their parent or caregiver. They may have trouble going to sleep tonight. These are all very common reactions.”
Montgomery said parents and caregivers are key to helping children cope with the trauma. The most important thing they can do is talk to their child about the tragedy, and to do it as soon after they’ve been exposed to the tragedy as possible.
“Ask them what they have heard. What have they already been told by their friends. What have they discussed at school,” Montgomery said. “If it's older children, it's a good idea to know what they are watching on the internet, what they have heard through social media and other technologies, and get a good sense of their thoughts, their fears, their concerns, what they are thinking.”
Montgomery said parents may feel unprepared for these type of conversations. She recommends the National Child Traumatic Stress Network website, which has tips and fact sheets to help parents convene such a conversation .
Funding for WNPR's Health Equity and Access Project is provided by the Connecticut Health Foundation.