Experts say listen to kids' school shooting fears

Published: Feb. 15, 2018 at 6:19 PM EST
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Knoxville experts in child counseling have advice for parents on helping children cope with recent news about the Florida school shooting and about school safety in general.

In short, they both encouraged parents to:

- Talk less, listen more

- Let kids feel empowered by drills at school

- Tell to report anything potentially dangerous to an adult

Clinical Psychologist Robert Devereaux, PhD, with Thriveworks Counseling, said it is nearly impossible to shelter your children from hearing bad news like this.

"A lot of students are gonna find out about this with or without your help," he said. "So, it's really great to give an opportunity and be available to let them tell you what they know already and fill in the blanks with appropriate information."

Devereaux said parents know best the maturity level of their own children and how they can handle certain information.

Interim Dean of the College of Social Work at UT, David Dupper, PhD, said it is necessary for students to alert an adult it they see warning signs of violence on social media these days.

"If they see some things that are scary, they see posts that concerns them, I do think they have to go to an adult, whether it's their parents maybe somebody at school, teacher, someone they trust at school, counselor, somebody," he said.

Devereaux said lockdown drills can be one of the positive steps schools take to help students be prepared for dangerous situations.

"It's really helpful to have a plan," he said. "We can't control for everything. And kids need to know that there are things that they can do and that there are things the principals and teachers did on their behalf."

Yet, he said parents should avoid going into any details that children don't ask for regarding reasons for the drills.

Dupper said parents don't need to feel like they have a solution for every concern children might raise regarding school safety. Instead, he said to be honest about fears and unknowns, while being a good listener.

"Situations like this, it's really important to let them talk, and to try your best to let them just express their feelings, their fears, and be there to kind of hold them."

Dupper said one sign your child could need more than your listening ear, perhaps professional counseling, is if their fears are keeping them from wanting to attend school or other everyday activities.

Devereaux said, "If you notice that your child is having a more serious reaction to these traumatic stories such as significantly reduced eating, poor sleep, uncontrollable crying, or unusually aggressive behavior, consultation with a mental health professional is advised to ensure that he or she can resume healthy behaviors and coping."

See resources for more information in links to the right.