Child psychiatrist encourages candid conversations about violence

From the streets of Atlanta to the suburbs of Florida, the images of deadly gun violence can leave children with lots of tough questions.

"I've talked to parents this week whose elementary schoolers are undergoing active shooter drills at school so if they're doing drills at school about shootings. Of course, they're going to come home with questions about it," said Dr. Sarah Vinson.

Dr. Vinson is a child psychiatrist with practices in Virginia Highland and Atlanta's West End. She said children from every socio-economic background express fears and anxiety in the wake of school shootings and even after the day to day violence in their own communities. She said not discussing the violence with your kids is not a good idea.

"They're going to get it, either way, so your job is to help them understand, yes, this is on TV and yes, it's scary but it's actually a really rare thing," Dr. Vinson told FOX 5's Portia Bruner at her practice off Ponce de Leon Ave.

Dr. Vinson's suggests parents ask questions to gauge how your children are processing what they've seen or heard. Also, remind younger children and adolescents about measures already in place to help ensure their safety.

"Talk to them about how their school has security guards to help at their school and how their school hasn't had anything like that happen ever. Talk about how you have a phone and that if anything happens, they can always call. Tell them 'I'll see you at the end of the day' so you're talking like you expect good things to happen, " Dr. Vinson said.

The Emory University and Morehouse School of Medicine professor said parents don't always have to offer solutions. Kids, she said, just need to know you will listen and validate their feelings. The other key to helping kids cope, limit screen time--on TVs and particularly on cell phones.

"That device connects them to the entire world! The exposure to media content that may be disturbing, cyberbullying. Everything. Just like we had curfews for how long we could stay out or talk on the phone, you have to have restrictions. it's really a good idea just to get those screens up at bedtime since they should be sleeping overnight anyway,"

Since depression rates rise significantly during the teenage years, Dr. Vinson said it's critical parents remain constantly engaged with their teen's to gauge their reactions to traumatic events--whether it's something that happened in your neighborhood or a thousand miles away.

"Kids of every age just need to know you are going to listen. Make time to talk and listen. The question isn't 'Do I want my child to know about it?' The question is 'Who do I want them to hear about it from and who do I want them to talk about it with? And I would guess that you would rather that person be you then someone else," said Dr. Vinson.