Parents, children and handling news of the Connecticut shootings

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Parents dealing with the aftermath of the mass school shooting today in Newtown, Ct. should keep young children away from media coverage of the tragedy and give older children a chance to talk about how the shooting makes them feel, according to a local clinical psychologist who specializes in counseling children.

But first, parents, grandparents and other caregivers must control their own emotions, said Dr. Anthony Mannarino, director of the Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents at Allegheny General Hospital.

"This is such a horrible event that I think we all need to try to be composed and able to talk with our children and grandchildren in a manner that's not going to exacerbate their anxieties," Dr. Mannarino said. "We need to keep it together ourselves."

Children younger than 7 years old, he said, should be kept away from TV news coverage of the shooting as much as possible to limit possible stress reactions such as trouble sleeping, nightmares, and anxiety about separating from parents or going to school.

If they do learn of the shooting -- or if parents are dealing with kids ages 7 and older -- it's important to answer questions truthfully and present the correct information, he said. With those older children who will find out about the shooting one way or another, he said, it's important for parents to initiate the conversation, give children a chance to talk about their feelings, and reassure them that they are safe.

"Given the number of incidents that have happened lately, it may seem like they're common but these incidents are still relatively rare and particularly with young kids, we can offer them some sense their school is still safe," he said.

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Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com.


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