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Helping children cope with Newtown tragedy

Local counselor offers tips for discussing Newtown massacre

HESPERIA • In the wake of Friday's shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., children are bound to have questions that can be tricky for parents to answer.

Vicki Davio, who specializes in handling critical incidents out of Advanced Counseling & Psychiatric Offices in Hesperia, said parents should pay close attention to how their children respond and see if deeper discussions are needed.

“Children are rarely asked what they think and how they feel,” she said. “Ask them, ‘Do you ever worry, “Am I safe at my school”’ Then take time to reassure them of their safety.”

Parents are often upset and anxious to talk to their friends and family members about what happened. However, Davio cautioned them to be aware of what they say when their children are around, avoiding exposing young ones to graphic details.

“Be careful what little ears are listening to,” Davio said.

Other tips for helping children cope include:

• Be honest and give accurate information, but not more than your child wants or can understand.

• Let the child talk and write about their feelings.

• Listen to what they have to say. Don’t shut off discussion.

• Never tell young children, “God took Sally away because He loves her,” because children may wonder if it’s a good idea to be loved by God. Likewise, don’t say, “Sally went to sleep,” since they may become afraid to go to sleep.

• If students want to, let them write sympathy notes to the family of the victims. One outlet available for the Newtown victims is a guestbook at

• Share your own reactions, remembering that everyone responds differently to trauma.

• Remember that critical incidents — even ones happening publicly across the country — can trigger memories of past trauma. Watch for signs such as night terrors, withdrawal, outbursts, changes in eating, reverting to bed wetting or thumb sucking and fear of strangers.

• Use this time to reassess as a family what’s really important and encourage children to be more appreciative of those around them.

Davio also recommends parents use this opportunity to contact their children’s school and ask what procedures are in place for responding to critical incidents, along with pushing for support of mental health services.

“As a mental health worker, of course we always wish there was more opportunities for people to receive mental health counseling,” Davio said, in hopes of helping troubled individuals before things escalate to tragedy.

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