Telling your children about what happened in Conn.

S. Fla. schools to have counselors available on Monday

Published On: Dec 14 2012 05:06:21 PM EST   Updated On: Dec 14 2012 11:48:51 PM EST
Sandy Hook Connecticut school shooting 5
MIAMI -

How do you talk to your kids about what happened in Connecticut?

The Washington Post reported that some of the Sandy Hook Elementary kids huddled in bathrooms and classrooms while a 24-year-old gunman was shooting and killing their classmates were so scared they were physically sick to the stomachs.

That fear echoes across the country as families learn of the tragedy.

Miami-based mental health therapist Ana Moreno told Local 10's Christina Vazquez that kids in our community can suffer the feeling of trauma just by hearing and seeing coverage of the nation's second deadliest massacre.

What is even harder for them, explained Moreno, is that they can't articulate their concerns the way adults do. So, often they will act them out, exhibiting symptoms of trauma.

Her recommendation for South Florida parents is to open up a dialogue about what happened with these two questions: What did you hear? How do you feel?

This will help you begin to understand how your child is internalizing the events unfolding in Connecticut and offer a teaching moment to clear up any misinformation they may have heard from others, including older siblings active on social media. 

Moreno says what you say also depends on how old your children are.

"What is to say what happened in Connecticut can not happen in our community," said Moreno. "You take a child that is already anxious by nature or had some other sort of experience or trauma, this can escalate it to a whole other level. Especially with the younger ones, 12, 13 or younger since they can't articulate as well, they will start to act out what they are feeling. We have to be sure if we see any behaviors or school refusal, anything that is off from your child's normal or average behavior, definitely get professional help."

Moreno said older kids have a more difficult time articulating what they are feeling.

"It is about checking-in with them about what they have heard, clarifying any details age-appropriate for that child and recreating a very safe environment for them," said Moreno. "Give them examples of being safe. Say that when you are with mom and dad you are safe and school is safe. Yes, this happened at school, but school is a safe place."

The conversation allows a safe environment for your children to explain if they are scared and allow parents to comfort. This is especially important since the shooting happened in a school and kids will return to class on Monday and may now associate the location with danger.

"Feelings are not right or wrong," said Moreno. "Some kids are going to be angry. Some kids are going to be scared. Some kids are going to be extremely anxious, and it is about normalizing the feelings they are having at that moment in order to keep the communication open. They can heal from this and really validate that fear because it is a very real fear."

Moreno said to be on the look-out for changes of behavior in the coming days as the nation continues to watch and mourn.

"The further we are from the physical difference, from the event in Connecticut to South Florida, the less likely that there will be a trauma," said Moreno. "However, it can still exist."

Some signs of trauma Moreno mentioned include difficulty sleeping, appetite, temper tantrums, melt-downs, fear of being alone, and separation anxiety.

"If their school grades start to diminish or drop, restlessness in school, especially after this event, those are all signs or symptoms that something is going on with the child and you may need to intervene at a different level," said Moreno.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools spokesman John Schuster told Local 10's Christina Vazquez via text message, "We will have counselors available as needed and can send district staff to schools with particular needs."

Broward County Public Schools spokeswoman Nadine Drew told Local 10 she was still working on finding out what plans are in place on Monday. 

Meantime, Broward County Public School Superintendent Robert Runcie issued the following statement to Local 10 via e-mail: “Our thoughts, prayers and condolences are with the families of the Newtown, Connecticut community. The safety of our students is our highest priority. The District has safety measures in place to facilitate a safe teaching and learning environment. We continuously review our security protocols for our school campuses.”