How to talk to children about school shootings

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- As adults we have a lot of questions after Wednesday's deadly school shooting in Florida, but children have their own concerns.

Karyn Riddle is an associate professor at the UW School of Journalism and Mass Communications where her research focuses on the effects of exposure to media violence.

She said for kids under the age of six, it's okay to shield them from the topic.

"One way to prevent children from experiencing trauma is to not expose them to something that might be scary," explained Riddle.

Don't try to reason and explain, as it can create more fear, said Riddle. However, for older children, she said parents should take a proactive approach and talk with their child so they hear it in a matter that's sensitive and consistent with your family values. This prevents kids from hearing it from friends or other social media posts.

It's not uncommon for kids to express fear about going to school after hearing of a situation - like a school shooting. She suggested this tip to help them navigate those feelings.

"I think with the older kids you can really try to explain to them the steps in place at their school to prevent this and protect children if it - God forbid - happens," said Riddle.

Reassure them of the measures in place to protect them in their school and that teachers are trained to handle these situations.

In her research, Riddle has found that media plays a major role in how we comprehend the news of mass shooting and other tragic events.

"One thing scholars are concerned about is desensitization which is the idea that over time we're exposed to these traumatic news events over and over, that we might become a little bit numb to them," said Riddle.

She said initially we may have a strong emotional reaction to them, but over time those reaction are tempered a bit. This has the chance of impacting our behaviors and willingness to want to evoke change or to impact policy.