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When discussing school shootings with children, a UK psychology professor says it's helpful to take cues from the kids themselves

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Jae C. Hong/AP
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AP
Diego Esquivel, left, and Linda Klaasson comfort each other as they gather to honor the victims killed in Tuesday's shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Desperation turned to heart-wrenching sorrow for families of grade schoolers killed after an 18-year-old gunman barricaded himself in their Texas classroom and began shooting, killing multiple grade schoolers and their two teachers. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

A University of Kentucky psychology professor says it's important to keep kids on a normal schedule and monitor their access to media following events like the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas this week.

While it may be difficult to limit exposure to the news, especially for older kids, UK's Dr. Michelle Martel says keeping children focused on other activities, social interaction, and not allowing the news to disrupt their typical routines are ways parents can protect their children's mental health in the wake of disturbing events.

And when the discussion does come up, Martel says it's helpful to take the lead from kids themselves, depending on their age and their reaction, while making sure they don't feel overwhelmed.

"What I like to talk about is that, just like with lots of other traumatic incidents or natural disasters or things like that, these things are relatively infrequent events, despite what we hear on the news and the extensive coverage of it. So I like to start with that point, that it is very unlikely that any given child will have to experience these events."
Dr. Michelle Martel, University of Kentucky psychology professor

But, she advises, it's also important to discuss being prepared, and there, parents can take their cues from school policies.

Martel says while it's normal for kids to be a little more anxious or distracted, more serious warning signs could include self-isolating or disruptions in sleeping or eating. In those cases, she recommends broaching the topic and seeking professional help if children continue to struggle.

Those looking for help online can find resources through the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.