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What caretakers are telling kids about the Florida shooting

How do you talk to children about mass shootings so they feel both prepared and reassured? John Yang asks parents and school administrators how they handle this responsibility in the wake of another tragedy.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Florida school shooting and others like it create a difficult challenge for parents and teachers alike, how to talk to children, so that they're both prepared and reassured.

    John Yang sat down with some parents and school administrators in the Washington, D.C., area to see how they handle this responsibility.

  • John Yang:

    For 7-year-old Lily Gregorian, first grade is all about new experiences. Yesterday's first? An active shooter drill, scheduled by her Washington, D.C., school, in response to the Florida shooting. That morning, her parents, Stephanie and Jamie, had a chat with her.

  • Jamie Gregorian:

    We needed her to know why she was going to have to be undergoing this drill today.

  • John Yang:

    Did you have any idea what to say?

  • Stephanie Gregorian:

    No.

  • John Yang:

    Lily had questions.

  • Stephanie Gregorian:

    She was asking, what happened to his brain? Why did he come into a school and want to start shooting people? What did he want?

  • John Yang:

    It was a conversation that likely echoed in homes around the country.

    In Alexandria, Virginia, it was Rebecca Tiffany's 14-year-old daughter, Sophie, who brought it up.

  • Rebecca Tiffany:

    I could see the distress on her face. She said, we need to talk about what I can do if this happens in my school.

  • John Yang:

    Gun violence had already encroached on Sophie's life. Her middle school is just blocks from the baseball field where Republican lawmakers were shot last year.

  • Rebecca Tiffany:

    With each news incident like this, she's brought it up, but it seems like this time it's much more impactful, because she's headed to high school, and it seems very real.

  • John Yang:

    Was it a question and a conversation you were prepared for?

  • Rebecca Tiffany:

    No one is prepared for this, because it's outside of what we can imagine.

  • John Yang:

    Rebecca has tried to shield her 11-year-old son, Grant, but has already thought about how she would answer if he asks why this happened.

  • Rebecca Tiffany:

    We, as humans, always, eventually rise above these things. We have had many horrific things in our history. But we eventually work our way through it. I believe that we will solve this, because we love our children.

  • John Yang:

    For the Gregorians, it was a loss of innocence for both parents and child.

  • Stephanie Gregorian:

    When you have a child that crawls into your lap and kind of holds onto your arm and starts almost whimpering in, not fear, but just concern or not being able to really understand, you know, as a parent, it breaks your heart.

  • Jamie Gregorian:

    We know we have dropped her off. We see her when we pick her up. It's what goes on during the day that's outside of our control, and that's why I think a shooting is a little bit scarier to a parent than, you know, any other potential danger.

  • John Yang:

    At Somerset Prep in Washington, the responsibility of keeping nearly 400 children safe falls to principal Lauren Catalano and Donald Parker, director of student support.

    Wednesday's shooting hit close to home for Catalano. She once taught near the school where it occurred and knows students and teachers there.

  • Lauren Catalano:

    When I came to school this morning, every child that walked through the door, I couldn't help but think, this could have been one of those kids. And I think, just from reading their faces, they felt uneasy, and that made me feel horrible, because we want this to be the place that they feel safest.

  • John Yang:

    To reassure students, they have scheduled an active shooter drill for next week.

  • Donald Parker:

    Kids are concerned because, you know, schools have been a safe haven. And, today, we have to come to the reality that there may be a day where we're faced with an active shooter.

  • John Yang:

    They tried to make yesterday as normal as possible, including going ahead with a previously planned Valentine's Day dance. Catalano and Parker listened to students' concerns.

  • Lauren Catalano:

    So, it is just as much our responsibility to teach them to read, to know math, to apply scientific concepts, than it is to help them process their feelings, process their emotions and understand that it's OK to talk about those things.

  • John Yang:

    As a parent, Rebecca Tiffany wants her children to reach out to kids who don't seem to fit in.

  • Rebecca Tiffany:

    I have coached my children many times about befriending the children who are sitting alone and making sure that they have someone to talk to. And if we all sat our kids down and talked about how those tipping point moments happen, I think we might be able to prevent at least some of those times when someone's mind goes from just being an angry person to becoming an active shooter.

  • John Yang:

    And prevent some difficult conversations between parents and their children in the future.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang in Alexandria, Virginia.

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