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Officials: How to talk to your child about the Texas school shooting

"We feel our kids aren't very resilient, but they're pretty resilient," Dr. Stephen Taylor said. "Ask what they know, if they have feelings about it, talk to them."

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — At least 21 people, including 19 children, were killed in a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas Wednesday. The news of the deadly shooting has spread far beyond Texas and the students impacted. 

For many parents, dropping their child off at school the day after a mass shooting can be difficult and some may find it even harder to answer questions their kids may have about the tragedy.

Louisville psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Taylor said what makes this most recent tragedy even more horrific is that it isn't our first time experiencing this.

"The powerful feelings of anger and rage and fear and anxiety are so much at the core of this experience," Taylor, chief medical officer at UofL Health – Peace Hospital, said. "It's so crucial for us to be aware of all of these feelings."

Local Resources

UofL Health – Peace Hospital is launching a podcast talking about mental health in the Louisville community. The official launch happens Thursday, but episodes are already posted online. Click here to listen.  

The first episode touches on what mental health is and defines trauma.

The hospital also has staff available on hand 24/7 who can assess and refer people who may need mental health treatment, both in-patient and out-patient.

Call UofL Health – Peace Hospital's assessment and referral center at 502-451-3333. Note that this is not a crisis line number. 

If you're in crisis, Seven Counties Services has a 24/7 crisis line for adults and kids. You can request an appointment online or by calling one of the numbers below.

  • 24/7 Adult Crisis Line (502) 589-4313.Adult services available, but are not limited to:
    •  Individualized mental health treatment
    • Counseling
    • Case management
    • Intensive outpatient
    • Medication management
    • Peer support services
  • 24/7 Child Crisis Line (502) 589-8070.Child services available, but are not limited to:
    • Crisis stabilization
    • Counseling 
    • In-home therapy
    • Medication management
    • Residential services
    • School-based services

You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

How to talk to your child about school shootings:

Contain your feelings

Taylor said there are no magic words to help parents or their children cope with the tragedy. He said it's normal for people to feel anxious and afraid after tragedies like what we saw in Uvalde, Texas. 

"You have to be able to tolerate what [your kids] feel," Taylor said. "You have to be able to contain what's going on with the kid, regardless of what you feel yourself. As parents, that's part of what we do."

He said while parents may be experiencing their own feelings toward the subject, their kids are too. 

Taylor said parents should try to encourage their kids to hold onto those feelings, whatever they are, and work through them together. 

Meet them where they are

Some parents may struggle to start conversations with their kids on topics like school shootings, but Taylor said to start that conversation, you have to meet them where they are.

"Talk to kids and hear their words," Taylor said. "What are they saying? How do they talk about it? Talk about it with them in their words; meet them at their level."

Taylor said while some parents may worry about talking to their children about these topics, it's still fair to bring them up.

"I think we feel our kids aren't very resilient, but they're pretty resilient," Taylor said. "Ask them what they know, if they think about it, if they have feelings about it and talk to them about it."

Avoid unloading feelings and placing blame

When tragedies strike, our feelings can take over. Taylor said as a result, people have a tendency to take a particular feeling and unload it on the people around them.

"It happens so often, and it's so much a part of what we see — even with gun violence," Taylor said. 

He said blaming others for tragedies is one way we unload those feelings and said he doesn't think it's a healthy way to cope with tragedies. 

"If we can learn and develop the capacity to hold and contain our feelings in order to talk about them and process them, that's such a crucial first step," Taylor said.

He said blaming avoids processing feelings and emotions.

Be with them in those moments

Understandably, some children may be afraid to go to school after reports of a school shooting. 

Taylor said there's no simple way to make your child feel safe again, but said it's important to hear what your child is saying and be with them in those moments.

"We want to try and reassure our kids, but we also don't want to lie to them either, right?" he said. "Be honest with them, listen to their fears and don't force them to do something that terrifies them."

Talking about politics

With news of the shooting spreading across social media, politics and gun regulations are once again at the forefront of many conversations. 

Taylor said to be aware that your child picks up on discussions around the home. Children may also see or hear about these issues online.

Taylor said if your child brings it up, talk to them. 

"Ask them what they think and meet them in that frame," Taylor said. "Honor what their opinions are and what they're thinking."

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