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Thoughts of school shootings can cause anxiety and fear. Get tips on how to help your kids cope

The aftermath of reports of active shooters at several Minnesota schools has increased anxiety levels for some students and parents. Even though the situation was a hoax, people worry about the real thing. In this episode of NewsMD's "Health Fusion," Viv Williams talks to the director of clinical services at Zumbro Valley Health Center about how parents can help their kids cope.

A student stands at the far end of a school hallway lined with lockers
School shootings, even when the situation is a hoax, may cause anxiety and fear.
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ROCHESTER — On the morning of Sept. 21, 2022, several high schools in Minnesota went into lockdown after receiving calls about an active shooter. Police responded within minutes. The situation was a hoax and no one was injured.

At least, not physically.

What might a situation like this do to kids’ mental health, especially if some didn’t know it was a hoax at first? How should you talk to your kids about this topic? What should you do if you child is afraid to return to school?

Healther Geerts is the director of Clinical Services at Zumbro Valley Health Center in Rochester, Minnesota. She has insights on what parents can do to help their kids cope.

“Parents and kids need to talk,” Geerts said. “Parents need to ask how their kids are feeling. Parents need to share how they’re feeling. It’s OK to share with your kids that you were scared too.”

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Geerts says it's also important to provide kids with information that allows them to put the situation into an accurate context.

“When we hear the words 'active shooter,' our minds often go to worst care scenarios,” Geerts said.

She says people often envision the violent shooting they've seen in the media and on social media. And sometimes those images are very disturbing. So tell kids that you, the police, schools and communities are doing what they can to protect students. Safety protocols are in place.

Geerts says it's essential that parents be honest. Tell students that you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but you and the community are working to keep students safe.

Geerts says warning signs and symptoms that could mean your child is becoming overwhelmed with fear and anxiety include sadness, irritability, withdrawal from social situations, clinginess, crying, nightmares and refusal to go to school.

Do not hesitate to seek professional help. Geerts says if your child is struggling, contact your healthcare provider or a mental health expert.

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Follow the  Health Fusion podcast on  Apple,   Spotify and  Google podcasts. For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at  vwilliams@newsmd.com. Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

MORE HEALTH FUSION:
Do you get a little bit cranky after a sleepless night? In this "Health Fusion" column, Viv Williams explores how sleep deprivation can do a lot more damage than just messing with your mornings. It may also make people less willing to help each other.

Opinion by Viv Williams
Viv Williams hosts the NewsMD podcast and column, "Health Fusion." She is an Emmy (and other) award-winning health and medical reporter whose stories have run on TV, digital and newspaper outlets nationwide. Viv is passionate about boosting people's health and happiness by helping them access credible, reliable and research-based health information from top experts. She regularly interviews experts and patients from leading medical institutions, such as Mayo Clinic.
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