Home » News »

July 20, 2012 Print

Theater Shooting: Tips for Helping Kids Cope With Tragedy

by Karla Dial

People woke up this morning to the news of a lone gunman opening fire in a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo. Within minutes, 71 people had been shot, 12 of them died.

The fact that the shooting occurred in such an everyday place, at a movie millions of people have plans to see this weekend, could have a strong effect on children, says Aarin Hovanec, Focus on the Family’s director of counseling services. But there are steps parents can take to help them process the news.

The most important: Be open to conversation.

“Teens sometimes aren’t as willing to talk with their parents, so just making it clear that the communication line is open, or if they want to talk with a friend or other family members, that’s OK too,” she said. “Just being able to talk about your fear or concern is helpful.”

For younger children, limiting news exposure could be helpful — as is being aware that some details could be too much for them to handle.

“The first thing kids always ask is, ‘Can that happen to me?’ ” Hovanec said. “They may verbalize it, they may not. If they’re not asking about it, maybe in that general conversation you’re having about the news, ask how they’re feeling about it.

“We have to be honest with our kids. ‘That could happen here. We hope that it doesn’t.’ But we have to be honest with them so we can continue building that trust as we go through life.”

Focus on the Family has several resources available for dealing with traumatic situations, including the booklets Parenting in the Midst of Tragedy and Understanding and Coping With Trauma.