ST. LOUIS – Dinner table conversations are getting deeper than a simple “How was your day?” after last week’s school shooting in our own backyard.
“As you talk to your kids over the coming weeks about this, check in with yourself and just say to yourself, ‘What am I feeling?’ ‘How can I deal with that?’ ‘How can I let that flow through me?’ ‘How can I express that to my children to give them a space where they can express what they’re feeling?’” Dr. Ken Haller, a professor of pediatrics at the St. Louis University School of Medicine, said.
One of the most common questions Haller gets from parents is how to talk to kids about school shootings, especially after what happened at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School on Oct. 24.
“First of all, find out what your kids know, what they’re feeling, how it’s affecting them, and then you can come up with a plan to deal with that,” he said.
Haller says to talk with your kids about what’s going on, but do what you can to limit them from watching the violence play out over and over again.
“Make sure kids media diet includes a lot of other things,” Haller said. “Things that are more positive, more affirming, more uplifting. This is something that is a terrible, terrible tragedy. And finding ways to show kids that the rest of our lives are still going on is one of the key things that parents can do at a time like this.”
Haller, who also works as a pediatrician at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, emphasizes that it’s okay to not be okay. Talk with your kids, and more importantly – listen to them. Look out for changes your child’s appetite and mood. Watch for signs of depression and anxiety because that’s when it’s time to seek professional help.
“It’s important for parents to be persistent because right now, mental health services, even before all this, were frankly rather overwhelmed. So you have to be an advocate for your kid and say, my kid needs help,” Haller said.
St. Louis Public Schools have counseling and trauma services available to students, staff, and families as long as they’re needed. You can call your school directly or go to their website.
Help is also available 24/7 to anyone who needs it. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, where you will be connected to counselors who are trained to listen, provide support and connect you to necessary resources.
“If you feel that your child physically is in danger, you can take them to an emergency room. That should be an emergency room, not an urgent care, and preferably an emergency room that does have pediatric and psychiatric services like Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, or Mercy Hospital,” Haller said.
During times like this, it’s easy to feel helpless. Haller said something else you can do is give your kids hope for the future, like helping them brainstorm ideas to play an active role in making the world a better place.
“This might be going online and finding organizations that promote school safety, that promote sensible gun legislation that promote things that will make kids feel that they’re doing something to prevent this ever happening again,” he said.
Above all, let your children know you are there for them, no matter what, he says.