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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to talk to children about Colorado shooting

By Priscilla Dunstan
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

The recent events in the Colorado movie theater are hard to understand even for parents, and for children and teens it can be even more confusing.

Going to the movies is often the first independent outing for many of our children, and parents usually feel comfortable dropping their teens with their friends at the cinema. The thought that such a senseless event could happen at such a place is unsettling at best, and horrifying in reality.

Children often process this information differently, so it’s important to talk to your children in an age-appropriate way about their concerns, and to watch for signs or upset like avoidance, nightmares and withdrawn behavior.

Tactile children love the activity of actually going to the movies. For a young teen or tween, it is often a group event and can involve other treats — a meal, snacks or arcade games before the show.

Learning about the recent shooting can make them behave in a more hyper-vigilant, protective way, and they may feel the need to prove their physical prowess. You will hear discussions with their friends, about how they would wrestle the gunman to the ground, and you may see a demonstration with a pillow or buddies.

This may strike you as a little offensive at first, but try not to interrupt their play, if you can. They are simply trying to process the threat to their “safe space,” to empower them to feel less helpless.

Visual children will respond quite stoically at first to the news, and in particular, to any images they may see on TV. However, the internalization of these pictures will rear its ugly head at night, through nightmares or sleep avoidance. It is best (if possible) to keep the visuals of such tragedies away from a visual child, especially when young.

Watch for signs of stress within their drawings or even their dress style. Many a visual child, when traumatized, will start to dress in superhero outfits, hide items for protection in their clothing, and insist on carrying unusual items in their bags.

Auditory children will be listening. Be very careful about your own discussions, and what you hear yourself on these events. A simple conversation with your sister on the phone — even without details, about how horrified you are — will be overheard. Auditory children take words very seriously, and they may think it is likely to happen to them, right now, in their town.

On the positive side, an auditory child will let you know their concerns, by asking lots of questions — be sure to give clear, reassuring answers, and plan on answering the same questions over and over. They, like the rest of the world, are trying to understand how and why something like this can happen.

Taste and smell children tend to be more emotional, but also, sometimes more philosophical than most children. They will want to check that everyone they know is safe, and that it won’t happen to them, naturally. But your taste and smell child will be surprisingly able to compartmentalize what happened, often within an imaginary world — totally separate from their own reality.

This can cause frustration to adults who know these events did actually happen, but for a taste and smell child, it is their way of processing confusing ideas. Their imagination processes the event first, then their emotional side, then lastly, their logical brain.

Expect a delay in emotions — for example, tears a week from now, seemingly out of the blue.

Priscilla Dunstan is a child and parenting behavior expert and consultant and the author of “Child Sense.”

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