GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — When parents see situations like what happened in Nashville, Tennessee, or Uvalde, Texas, many of them want to talk with their children about how to process the feelings of sadness and anger. 

But they might not know how to go about it. Local psychologists shared their tips on how to get the conversation started.

Doctors said it’s best to open with a question so you can get an idea of what your child already knows. Then it’s all about creating a listening space and staying calm.

“I definitely don’t recommend trying to tell them it’s OK or that it’s going to be OK because it’s not,” said Dr. Jenna Mendelson, a psychologist with Cone Health. “Having them hear us share our feelings can actually be really validating that there’s not something wrong with them.”

Dr. Mendelson said it’s normal for children to see the images from Nashville and be scared or confused. She’s heard from parents across the Piedmont Triad who feel the same way.

“I don’t even know any details about it because I feel like in my heart I don’t have to know,” said Ashli Cleary, a mother of four. “It’s the same thing. It’s the same story. It’s hard.”

Cleary has three teenagers in Guilford County Schools.

“We’re fighting for our kids,” she said. “They deserve a chance…in the climate of things, they’re not given a chance.”

School shootings are a topic she’s tired of having to address with her kids.

“There’s really no answer to the hatred that’s in the world,” Cleary said. “I’m at a loss of words as a mother.”

Cleary has started having regular conversations about school shootings so her teens feel comfortable coming to her about hard subjects.

“I try and keep things as normal as possible,” she said. “These conversations happen on the way to school, asking about how days are…just to try and make it a part of everyday life.”

Even if your children are elementary school aged, doctors said it’s not too young to open the dialogue.

“A school shooting is a senseless thing for anybody to hear about…but they are especially vulnerable to hearing these big concepts and really not being developmentally at a place where have any shot of making sense of it,” Dr. Mendelson said. “It might be extra important to bring it up for kids in that age range.”

There are some signs to look out for in case your child needs extra help coping.

“Any changes in behavior, changes in sleep patterns, changes in appetite,” said Dr. Linda Nicolotti, a psychologist with Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist. “Some children get somatic symptoms, so they might have belly aches or headaches, not wanting to go to school.”

Psychologists said these are hard but healthy discussions, which might not end with a solution.

“This might be the kind of situation where words just aren’t really going to do it and just being physically there for them, offering a hug if they want it, offering them space if they need it might be the best that we can really do,” Dr. Mendelson said.

Psychologists said it’s never going to seem like the right time to bring this up. If you start talking about it now, your kids will be more likely to come to you when they really need it.