SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) – The lives of 19 children and two teachers were senselessly taken in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday. The tragedy happened about 2,000 miles from Syracuse, but fear is hitting close to home.

Many parents are wondering how much they should share with their children. Others have posted on social media expressing how hard it was to put their kids on the bus Wednesday morning.

As a mother of two young boys, ages 5 and 6, Kimberly Garofalo experienced that exact struggle, but she knew she had to send her children to school.

“I choked back tears a little bit this morning talking to my sons. There is this kind of balance between making them aware and not creating further fear. I don’t want them to fear going to school.”

KIMBERLY GAROFALO, CENTRAL NEW YORK PARENT

NewsChannel 9 spoke with Dr. Anne Reagan, a child psychologist at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital about how to navigate this tragedy.

Dr. Reagan says if you also had a difficult time putting your child on the bus, she stressed the feeling is normal, but parents are responsible for reassuring safety to their children.

As hard as that is as a parent, not sending your child gives them the message that ‘we’re not sure if this is a safe place for you. I’m not confident sending you there.’ As a parent, we may be really having those strong thoughts and that’s okay. Again, that’s opportunity as parents for us to process, but it is important that we send the kids to school and that we let them know we are hearing your concerns.

DR. ANNE REAGAN, CHILD PSYCHOLOGIST, UPSTATE GOLISANO CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL

Dr. Reagan says the most important coping mechanism is for parents to have healthy communication with their children.

Families need to be able to discuss what the children have heard at school, what the children have heard from friends, and then parents can help direct the conversation and give information they find valuable to their own children.

DR. ANNE REAGAN, CHILD PSYCHOLOGIST, UPSTATE GOLISANO CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL

If your child is younger, Dr. Reagan says you have to decide as a family how you want to approach the topic of death and grief. Whatever words or example you use, she says keep them consistent.

If you child is older, Dr. Reagan suggests using open-ended questions to start the conversation with your child. This will help you assess how much they already know about the situation and how they’re digesting it.

“It’s kind of meeting the kids where they’re at by using open-ended questions to assess how they’re thinking about things and what they’ve heard in other settings,” Dr. Reagan explained.

In order to have healthy conversations with your child, parents need to make sure they’re in the right mental space as well.

If a caregiver is having these conversations while crying and completely falling apart, it can send some challenging messages to the kids. Of course, real and raw emotion is important for everybody to experience and learn how to cope with, but certainly parents and caregivers need to check in with themselves first and know that they’re in their own mental space to have these challenging conversations. 

DR. ANNE REAGAN, CHILD PSYCHOLOGIST, UPSTATE GOLISANO CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL

Other advice Dr. Reagan has parents:

  • Encourage children to continue participating in day-to-day activities
  • Stick with a regular routine and structure
  • If your child is on social media, check their activity