Colorado movie theater shootings: What do you tell your children?

The shooting rampage at a movie theater in Colorado that killed 12 and injured more than 50 is enough to make adults uneasy.

Many forget that it can have just as deep of an effect on children.

Psychologist Tiffany Garner said there are ways parents can help ease children’s fears.  The coordinator of autism assessment services  in the division of pediatric psychology & neuropsychology atMt. Washington Pediatric Hospital offers her tips below.

How can an event like this impact children?

An event like this can impact children by becomng very upsetting and disruptive of their normal view of how the world works. Children see the world as a safe place.  This cuts through that shield that we allow them to have up. It gives them a glimpse of a world they’re not really aware of yet. An adult world.

What age of child are you talking about?

A median n age of 6 or 7-years-old.  

Is it natural for children to be fearful about this?

Absolutely. It is natural for all of us to be fearful following an incident like this. It challenges our world view and the world we live in where we feel safe on a day-to-day basis.

What are children’s greatest concern when something like this happens?

Their greatest concern is typically not for their own  safey but for the safety of their parents and loved ones.  The fear is not could this happen to me but could this happen to someone they love? Second is could this happen to me.

Should parents allow kids to watch this on television?

Absolutely not. We recommend limited exposure to the media .

Why is that?

You  want them to have the facts, but not the details because these things take on a life of their own. Something that is an exception to the rule comes to seem as if it’s a part of everyday life. Children can experience secondary traumatization because of the media exposure. They weren’t there and weren’t a part of it,  but it starts to feel as if they were because there is so much media coverage.

What should parents tell children who may  be fearful of going to the movies?

What you want to communicate to them is that they are safe. That movie theaters are safe places and that this typically does not happen in public places or movie theaters and that this is a one-time incident.

Are there activities that parents can do to make kids feel better about events like this?

They should focus on social activities and social networking. Social networking meaning doing things with family and friends not related to the incident. Going out in public with friends, going on play dates.  If they are fearful of  going out in a public setting encourage them to do it as a group.

Should parents take their kids to the movies?

Absolutely. The bad thing would be to avoid all movie theaters.

How should parents respond to children’s questions about guns?

You want to provide facts but not details. Give them a little general  information to satisfy their curiosity without giving them a level of detail that is not necessary.

Will you give me an example?

You could give the message that guns are something that people have that can be harmful. Guns can be dangerous when not used in the right way.

If kids hear about the shooting and kids have no questions should  parents bring it up?

If they hadn’t heard about the shooting and are not aware of it I would recommend that you don’t bring it up.  If they are older and you are not sure what they have heard you may want to ask some gentle leading questions. How was your day? Did you hear about anything today?  What did you and your friends talk about today?

Anything else parents should know?

Empathize with your child. Validate that fear. Tell them that this is scary and it is okay to be scared. But also let them know it’s an isolated incident and public places are safe.

An earlier version misstated the number of people killed. The Sun regrets the error.

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