Robb Elementary School tragedy prompts need for critical conversations

Mental Health experts say that parents should ask at least one specific question

The urge to have critical conversations with parents and children.

DETROIT – The tragedy at Robb Elementary School has parents in a position where they have to explain what should be unimaginable.

The trauma from the images in Texas weigh heavy on children, while also putting anxiety through the roof. But all parents need to remember that we’re all probably going through the same thing.

It has been nearly 10 years since a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and opened fire, killing 27 people, including 20 children.

One of those children was Michele Gay’s 7-year-old daughter Josephine Gay who says that finding her way back has been filled with three things, her other children, God, and purpose.

“We can’t let it be that families are afraid to send their kids to this wonderful place,” said Gay. “Families are afraid to send their loved ones to work at a school. This is an important place; It is important to our kids. It’s important to our society.”

Mental health experts say that parents should ask at least one specific question: How do I talk to my children about what’s happened, and how do I speak to myself first?

Cynthia Reynolds, the Founder and Executive Director of First Family Counseling in Bingham Farms, suggest we attend to our kids needs first.

“You know how they tell you on the airplane to put the air on your face first and then attend to your kid,” said Reynolds. “You can’t do that. You can’t attend to your kids fears or problems or issues that they have if you don’t do that first.”

Eric Herman is a Clinical Psychologist with Children’s Hospital of Michigan; he says once you have to manage your own emotions first, then speak to your children.

“I think explanations to kids are going to have to be age-appropriate, so for little ones, basics and if they don’t have to watch the news, that’s even better,” said Herman. “Older kids are going to see it, and it’s hard to deny how tragic and how upsetting and unexplainable this is, so be honest.”

Both Reynolds and Herman agree that if you’re having trouble wrapping your head around another mass shooting, or you’re struggling with the anger of so little being done by lawmakers even to make it harder for evil to play out with the help of a gun, then acknowledge it.

“Acknowledging that we are angry, acknowledging that we are traumatized,” Reynolds said. “So when I have conversations with children, I would say something like, ‘You know when we go to your new school next year, we’re going to check out the school grounds to see where the exits are.’ Just be real with them. ‘We’re going to run just to see how fast they can get away.’ Simple things like that make children feel more comfortable because it puts the power into their hands.”

Reynolds suggests staying in the present and only speaking to your child when you have talked to yourself first, even if you don’t know all the answers.

About the Authors:

Paula Tutman is an Emmy award-winning journalist who came to Local 4 in 1992. She's a Peace Corps alum who spent her early childhood living in Sierra Leone, West Africa and Tanzania and East Africa.

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.