COLLEGE STATION, Texas — With the nation enduring yet another mass shooting, parents here at home are facing a question.
How do we talk about the horror, shock, or sorrow from events like the mass shooting at the elementary school in Uvalde?
We spoke with a local clinical psychologist and marriage and family therapist on how parents can start a conversation with their children about tragic events like this one and hopefully move forward.
Finding ways to talk to our children about a life-changing event is no easy task. Clinical psychologist Dr. Annmarie MacNamara says trauma can be common.
“Trauma has happened to more people than we’d like to admit, kids and adults,” said Dr. Annmarie MacNamara, Clinical Psychologist and Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University. “Surprisingly, amazingly, sometimes people are resilient, and they don’t end up with things like post-traumatic stress disorder, but a lot of people do.”
This is why having the conversation now versus later is important.
Dr. MacNamara says we don’t have to stop the negative emotions in children.
“We’re not there to pretend it didn’t happen nor insulate them from that,” said Dr. MacNamara. “We’re there to help buffer them from these events not stop them but to lead by example and to be there to validate their emotions and support them as they go through these negative emotions.”
While we want to be our child’s advocate, Dr. Michael Smalley is a marriage and family therapist and says that parenting can be a hard job.
“Being a good parent is difficult because we have to encourage and motivate our kids to do something that they may not want to do,” said Dr. Michael Smalley, president and founder of Smalley Institute.
He says not to force children to talk if they aren’t ready, but when they are, have the conversation.
“So you don’t want to push someone whose just gone through a traumatic event like Uvalde and force them to talk about it if they aren’t ready to talk about it,” said Dr. Smalley. “Let them share what they were feeling. Encourage them to go hey what was that like for you? What was the thing that scared you? And then read the room.”
Dr. MacNamara says it’s important for parents to meet children where they are at.
“I think the main thing that I would stress is to meet the child where the child is at,” said Dr. MacNamara. “There may be children who actually don’t want to talk about it. They may deal with it in other ways. They may want more hugs. They might want to interact more. Maybe they need some alone time depending on their age. Maybe they’re going to talk to their friends about it.”
The question is how do we talk to children as the world faces another mass shooting.
“Every parent is going to get faced at some point with really scary, difficult conversations with their kids and I would encourage the parents, one, don’t be afraid to let your kids talk about it,” said Dr. Smalley.
Even though the conversation may be scary at first, local clinical psychologist Dr. MacNamara has an answer. She says it’s about balance.
“You want to kind of help them have a middle ground of how to interact with these terrible events, not be denying them or avoiding them but not obsessing and becoming more anxious,” said Dr. MacNamara. “You want to keep a handle on how the external media and images that they may be exposed to affecting them emotionally.”
Dr. Smalley says not to give up on finding solutions when it comes to having those tough conversations with children.
“Don’t stop trying to find solutions,” said Dr. Smalley. “It might be in a book. It might be in a pastor, could be in a priest. It could be in a mentor. It could be with a professional therapist but find somebody.”
He also says that community is important, and we need each other at times in our lives to pick one another up.