Jacksonville psychologist: how to tell kids about Uvalde shooting


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Jacksonville psychologist Dr. Tracy Alloway says it’s okay if you don’t have all of the answers.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Headed to celebrate a high school graduation Wednesday, the news of tragedy in Texas wasn’t far from Jacksonville mother Bobbie Banks’ mind.

In the wake of a shooting in Uvalde that killed 21, including 19 children and two adults, the safety of their children was on every parent’s mind.

“As far as those babies, it was a senseless killing,” she said.

Banks’ two daughters, Raven Banks and Leah Marseilla, are in high school.

“Every day going to school and coming from school I pray for their safety and that they get back safe,” Banks said. 

“My momma always tells me if something doesn’t feel right, then it’s not right,” Marseilla said. “Remove yourself from that situation.”

Banks said while she’s happy with Duval Schools’ security measures, she had a frank conversation with her daughters Tuesday night.

“I was telling my baby last night, you always think of an escape route. When you hear it, push the table against the door, some chairs against the door,” Banks said.

Psychologist Dr. Tracy Alloway said parents like Banks should take a mental health day to process the news from Texas if they need to.

“We don’t spend every day negotiating for our safety or looking out for perceived threats,” Alloway said. “That’s why situations like this are all the more disjunctive. Our brains are not wired to be on constant alert and nor should it be.”

Alloway, a mother herself, said it’s important to make sure your child feels safe.

“It’s important to remember their temporal perspective is immediate. It’s when your child tells you they’re hungry. They want to know when food is coming now. They don’t want to know your weekly meal plan. In the same way, when they’re telling you they’re worried or if they express their fears, they want to know right now, ‘how am I safe,'” she said.

“As a parent, it’s important to be able to feel comfortable communicating, ‘well right now I’m with you honey. When you go to school, here’s how you will also be safe.’ It’s important to give them concrete ways to reflect their safety and also to focus on the right now,” Alloway said.

If your children have questions about the shooting, Alloway said it’s okay to admit that you don’t have all of the answers.

“Our brain is wired in a way that wants to solve mysteries. If there’s a missing piece, we’re going to fixate on that, so rather than trying to brush that aside [unanswered questions about the shooting], give them that space to say, ‘you’re right. It’s a puzzle. It’s a mystery. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that you’re safe here. Here are things that we do as a family to keep us safe. Here are the things that your school is doing to keep you safe,’ and so, shift your focus to reframe to how they are being kept safe instead,” Alloway said.

She also said it’s okay to accept that you may want to keep your child home from school if you’re worried about him or her. 

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