Should you talk to your kids about the
Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting?

Mourners gather inside the St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church at a vigil service Friday. (Photo by Andrew Gombert-Pool/Getty Images)

A child-behavior expert warns parents that children traumatized by the Aurora movie-theater shooting may be deeply affected by recent mass shootings at a Newtown, Conn., school and an Oregon mall.

The first thing parents should do is limit or stop their children’s exposure to social media, said Dr. David Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital.

Parents — everyone — need to be cautious about letting children consume any media coverage of the event — especially social media, such as Twitter, where events immediately and quickly unfold.

“Kids are getting exposed to these events in real time — watching them happen,” Schonfeld said.

These first reports are vivid, incomplete and often inaccurate — and their immediacy can be a powerful trigger for anxiety, fear and other negative reactions from past traumas, he said.

“It abruptly brings people back to where they were,” Schonfeld said. “It’s not good for anyone, but it’s particularly bad for kids who have been through something like it. It re-traumatizes them.”

Signs of trauma are different in children of different ages. Signs appear soon after events for some but are delayed for others.

The 7/20 Recovery Committee, a community group that formed in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting last summer, includes mental-health experts encouraging parents to watch for the following:

• Preschool children may feel helpless, fearful and unsure about whether there is continued danger. They have difficulty sleeping or fear of going to sleep. They have nightmares. They experience increased anxiety when separated from parents. They may lose speech skills or toilet-training skills. They may engage in play that reflects trauma and is more repetitive than imaginative.

• School-age children have heightened concern for their own and their family’s safety. They may feel guilt or shame about their actions around a past traumatic event. They may be overwhelmed by fear or sadness. They also experience sleep disturbances. They have difficulty concentrating at school. They complain more of headaches, stomachaches or other physical ailments. They can engage in uncharacteristically aggressive behavior.

• Adolescents experience feelings of fear or vulnerability. They may withdraw from families and friends. They could feel guilty or ashamed of their responses. They may engage in self-destructive behaviors. They may be self-conscious about their emotions.

Jones said if parents have concerns about a child’s behavior, they should contact their pediatrician, other primary-care provider or a mental-health specialist.

Story by Electa Draper of The Denver Post. Read more at

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