CREATED Dec. 14, 2012
Reporter: Maggie Vespa
TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - How do you talk about such a tragedy with your children.? Do you talk about it at all?
One local expert says simply, it's best to be honest.
Unfortunately, Dr. Cynthia Dowdall has firsthand experience dealing with this sort of tragedy.
Having spent 20 plus years working in local schools she spent nearly half of her career as a counselor at Desert View High School.
"And my first week on the job was the first school shooting in the history of Arizona," she said.
That was back in 1992. Since then Dowdell has done extensive research on the prevention and effects of school shootings.
She even co-authored a 'critical incident stress management' plan, now used in schools nationwide.
Dowdall now does similar work with the Northwest fire department. So she knows all too well the difficulty of explaining such a tragedy to kids.
"Kids listen to these things, so its just really important to be honest with them," she said.
Dowdall says often it's not what you say, but how you say it.
"Language does have a big impact. We need to be sensitive to each child because each child will handle different info and different language differently,"
Dowdall advises using blunt language, such as "The children were killed," or even "murdered".
She adds avoiding metaphors, like "they are sleeping."
"Kids will be frightened to go to sleep because they don't know if they're going to awaken or if their families will awaken," she said.
And since many kids may have heard about this tragedy already, she says be aware of symptoms of stress.
"Seperation anxiety is a big one, and that's where it's really important with helping what their thoughts, with good thoughts and bad thoughts," she said.
Finally she says, be focused on the positive, describing to them what can and is being done to prevent history from repeating itself.
"Civility and about resiliency and about unity and getting along. Those are things that [help us] to move forward," she said.
Dodge adds when it comes to media coverage, deciding how much is too much for your kids can be a balancing act.
If you notice your child is already showing signs of stress, then keep the TV and social media off.
But if your child wants to know information, she recommends letting them watch or read just enough to learn the basics.