Elementary school mass shooting: How to cope with sudden loss and talk to kids about tragedy

Many families are trying to wrap their minds around the recent tragedy that claimed the lives of at least 19 elementary school students and 2 teachers in Uvalde Tuesday morning.

UVALDE, Texas – Many families are trying to wrap their minds around the recent tragedy that claimed the lives of at least 19 elementary school students and 2 teachers in Uvalde Tuesday morning.

The students who were shot and killed were all said to have been in either the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th grade at Robb Elementary School. The city of Uvalde is about 90 miles west of San Antonio, which is just four hours away from the Houston area.

Understandably, many parents around the nation are preparing to explain to their small children what has occurred in our state.

If you, or someone you know, experienced loss during this mass shooting, experts from provided the following coping mechanisms to help you get through this difficult time.

Memorial Hermann also provided specific resources that may offer a good starting place for helping to support children, adolescents, and their families coping with grief:

Additionally, Pediatric Psychologists at Texas Children’s Hospital are also helping parents and guardians navigate conversations with their children about the latest child massacre.

“It’s important not to lie. So saying this tragedy happened, something terrible happened today, here’s how I feel about it. How do you feel about it? But really limiting the exposure that they see on television,” said Dr. Marni Axelrad, Clinic Chief of the Psychology Service, Texas Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Axelrad adds it’s also important for parents and guardians to limit their emotional responses so the kids don’t absorb more grief.

“While with younger children we might say a terrible thing happened… with older children, it’s important to tell the truth [saying] ‘Here’s what happened, here’s how I feel about it,’ while also saying, ‘Here’s how unlikely it is to happen.’

Dr. Axelrad says if emotional distress and fear persist for weeks on end, then it’s time to seek the help of a professional.

Grief Counseling

For many individuals, one-on-one grief counseling support can be an essential component of the healing process. If your employer or school has counseling support available, you may want to reach out to find out more about what counseling may be offered for free. You may also contact your insurance company to inquire if counseling services are covered and to obtain a list of in-network therapists.

The Psychology Today website is another resource where you can search for counselors in your area by various criteria including specialization (such as “grief counseling” or “bereavement counseling”). Bo’s Place can also provide a list of grief counselors who provide services on a sliding scale per request through their referral line at (713) 942-8339.

Grief Is a Process

Grief is an ongoing process. While some may feel an expectation to “get over” a loss quickly, most people find that it takes time to heal. It may take more time than we ever imagined. There may be ups and downs. Everyone experiences grief differently, and being compassionate to yourself and others going through grief can be beneficial. It could be months or even years before you begin to feel more like yourself again after a difficult loss. As you navigate coping with the pain of loss, you may find it helpful to have the support of friends, loved ones, counselors, and support groups. We hope these resources are a comfort to you and your loved ones as you begin the healing process.

Mental Health of America - Greater Houston advice

After years of the pandemic causing a strain on mental health, Mental Health America (MHA) of Greater Houston has suggestions to cope with tragic events.

“Talk about it, get your feelings out and engage in conversations with your children,” said Jamie Freeny from MHA. “Be emotionally available and be an emotional role model. Right now, everybody’s hurting. Some people are angry, some are sad, some are grieving and I think it’s important that we validate those things and validate the fact that adults and children are affected by this horrible tragedy.”

When looking for ways to feel better, Freeny recommends:

  • Looking for volunteer opportunities
  • Encourage students to speak up and use their voices for change

For help finding a mental health expert to help your child:

  • Talk to their pediatrician
  • Talk to a school counselor
  • Ask if TCHATT would help your child
  • Listen, validate and reassure

“Listen to what they say, validate their experiences and their feelings, and reassure them that they are safe and that they’re loved,” Freeny said.

For more on addressing this based on what’s appropriate for each age group, and asking thought-provoking questions to understand what they know, watch here:

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About the Authors:

Moriah Ballard joined the KPRC 2 digital team in the fall of 2021. Prior to becoming a digital content producer in Southeast Texas and a Houstonian, Moriah was an award-winning radio host in her hometown of Lorain, Ohio and previously worked as a producer/content creator in Cleveland. Her faith, family, and community are her top passions.

Mother of two. Award-winning lover of digital storytelling, sparked by my fascination of being a fashionable gossip like my favorite "Willona Woods" character from "Good Times." On the serious side, president of the Houston Association of Black Journalists and dedicated community servant. Happy to share the news with you each and every day!