James Holmes tragedy a learning experience for parents

Sheryl Nadler
Shine On
July 24, 2012

When James Holmes opened fire on the audience in an Aurora, Colorado movie theatre, last week, killing 12 and wounding 58, many people across the globe felt the reverberations of it, quite close to home.

Parents might be asking themselves, should I discuss the shooting with my kids? And if so, how?

Kathy Lynn, a Vancouver-based parenting speaker and author, says we should absolutely be open and honest with our kids when it comes to discussing tragic events like the Colorado shooting. And if our kids don't approach us, we should approach them.

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Kids pick up bits of information from different places, so it is best to be direct. She stresses really listening to them to find out what their fears and anxieties are.

"I would say to them, 'I'm just wondering if you've heard about what happened in Colorado and how you feel about that?' And if they're like, 'Oh I don't care,' then you say 'Well, that's fine, but if after thinking about it for a while, you want to talk about it, I'm here for you.'"

Once a safe haven for date nights and group hangouts, teens might feel apprehensive about hitting up a movie theatre for their next outing. How can parents address that fear?

"When you get right down to it, kids should be more afraid to get into a car," she says. "All you can say is, 'Look, I know what happened was awful, but it isn't typical.' Then talk about how many theatres in the United States and Canada were running that movie that night and nothing happened."

Also see: Six-year-old girls want to be sexy, study finds

Aside from parents wanting to talk about the incident with their children, they might also wonder how they can detect signs of mental illness in their own children.

While the diagnose of any mental illness is understandably varied and complex, the Children's Mental Health Ontario website is a great resource for clues about children's behaviour.

The website says that while many children exhibit characteristics and behaviours like -- "getting significantly lower marks in school, avoiding friends and family, having frequent outbursts of anger and rage, losing his or her appetite, having difficulty sleeping, rebelling against authority" -- at some point during their childhood, one sign of a mental health disorder is if the symptoms last over a long period of time.

The website states:

Children and youth with the most serious mental health disorders (e.g., severe psychosis or schizophrenia) may exhibit:

•distorted thinking

•excessive anxiety

•odd body movements

•abnormal mood swings

•acting overly suspicious of others

•seeing or hearing things that others don't see or hear

How do you feel about addressing the incident with your children? Did you talk to your kids about it? If so, what did you say? Tell us in the comments.

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