Child therapist weighs in on mass shooting, helping children understand tragedy

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BOULDER, Colo. — Children clutched on to the hands of their parents as they dropped off flowers and pictures outside the King Soopers growing memorial.

Jeralyn Fokken, of Boulder, brought her 7-year-old daughter Rosie.

“I’m trying to bring awareness to the importance of what’s happened in our community and to help her understand that our world is scary,” Fokken said. “I think in this day and age we just never know what is going to happen, and I think this brings awareness to the concept that we need to educate.”

Rosie’s drawing was tied with a green ribbon to the fence.

“I painted a picture of a heart, and I said ‘we love you,’” Rosie said.

In the picture, she drew ten people inside mountains to represent the ten lives lost. In a soft voice, she said she was sad.

Cassandra Bohned brought her 5-year-old daughter.

“This is her community too, so I think it’s important to teach her empathy,” Bohned said.

She told her daughter someone made a really bad decision and hurt people at the King Soopers off Table Mesa Drive. Her daughter is aware that ten people died inside.

RELATED: These are the 10 victims of the Boulder King Soopers shooting

Dr. Sheryl Ziegler, a child therapist, say the key to helping kids understand the tragedy is making sure parents reveal information to kids based on their age. There are three age groups: those under 5 years old, kids 6-12 years old and teenagers.

She says the information should be very general for younger kids. For example tell kids that a bad person shot and killed ten people, but refrain from exposing them to graphic images. Ziegler says kids are bound to learn about the mass shooting in school, from an adult conversation or online.

“If you are not talking to them about it, you can’t help counterbalance some of that information,” Ziegler said.

She says parents can help children cope with the tragedy by transforming sadness into action, like drawing a picture or volunteering in the community to help people cope with the tragedy.

“Kids, what they need is just love and a sense of community and support and safety,” Ziegler said.

The key takeaway: kids are resilient. Ziegler says as long as adults are mindful of their conversations over the coming weeks, children will understand the tragedy and rebound.