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Local psychologist gives advice on how to talk to your kids about school shootings

Published: May. 25, 2022 at 6:28 AM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) – The mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas is the third one that’s happened in just a week and a half’s time in the United States. We know that at least 19 students and 2 adults were killed in the massacre. This does not include the shooter, who authorities say was killed by law enforcement.

“It’s horrific, it’s troubling and I mean I, your heart bleeds for the people that have to deal with this,” Gwen Sullivan, a PPS teacher of more than 25 years and vice president of the Portland Teachers Association, said. Sullivan said when school shootings happen it triggers a post-traumatic response for educators.

“What would I do? That’s the first thing, it’s like where would I hide my students?” she said. “Looking at Sandy Hook and looking at, I mean they’re just these little babies you know 8 to 10 year olds that are being murdered and I mean it’s just unfathomable it’s not something, it’s a feeling you can’t explain but you want someone to do something about it.”

As the nation tries once again to process this tragedy, local psychologist, Deana Julka from the University of Portland has advice and tips for parents on how to help their kids deal with this. She said first and foremost, parents and families need to be honest with their children.

“It’s really normal to feel shock, disillusionment or deep sadness or fear or anxiety, all of those are totally normal in children and adults,” Julka said. She said it’s important that parents not try to dismiss or distract kids and being upfront with them will help build trust.

“If they do have misinformation, correcting that is also important but doing it an age-appropriate level so how you talk with a six-year-old will be very different than a 12-year-old and what you can say,” she said. Julka also suggests limiting media exposure and reassuring your kids that their home is a safe place.

“I don’t think it would be healthy to say this could never happen here but it is a healthy response to really talk about the security they have and the measures and care that are put in place not only by their own caregivers in their home but by the teachers and coaches and people that are caring for them as well,” she said. Julka said how parents handle these conversations will be different based on age, but again it’s imperative to take the time to talk and listen to your kids and how they’re feeling.