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An adult talking to two kids.

When talking about thoughts and feelings, the age of a child will make a difference in how parents should respond.

Talking to children about violence

From eNews, May 3, 2007

When disaster strikes--such as the recent school shooting at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., or the February shootings at a Salt Lake City mall?children can feel vulnerable and may need help coping with their feelings. Parents should check in with their children to see what they're thinking and how they're doing emotionally. The age of a child will make a difference in how you need to react. ** With preschoolers through age 5, who may have seen reports on the news, you can begin by saying, "That looks pretty scary, doesn't it? What do you think about it?"

** With school-age children, ask if they have seen the reports and talk about your own feelings by saying, "I'm very sad for all of those people and their families." Remember that young children react largely to the attitudes and emotional responses of those around them, more so than the event itself. ** With older children and teens, it is more effective to talk about your own feelings first--this may help your teen to talk about the tragedy and their own fears. For young adults on college campuses, you can also discuss the safety procedures of their specific campus. Children of all ages should be reassured about their own safety. The following are some specific things to discuss with older children and teens related to school violence:

Distressed children may act in ways that aren't clearly connected to the event. They may mope or be irritable or aggressive. Be available over time. For some kids, these feelings won't heal immediately.
Ellie McCann and Kathleen Olson are family relations educators with University of Minnesota Extension.