Child psychiatrist shares advice on helping kids cope with anniversary of the tragedy in Virginia Beach

Virginia Beach Mass Shooting

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – We know many of you who have children in your care were already dealing with a lot before today’s anniversary of the Virginia Beach mass shooting. 

That’s why 10 On Your Side’s Anita Blanton spoke with a child and adolescent psychiatrist to give you some advice working through this as a family during such a stressful time.

In the year that’s followed Virginia Beach’s darkest day, the massive memorials have moved from sidewalks and pews, but a community continues to mourn and heal. Dr. Mary Margaret Gleason, Vice Chief of the CHKD Mental Health Program shared insight on how to help children coping with a changing world mark the anniversary of an incomprehensible tragedy in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis.

“We would expect the anniversary will bring up difficult and strong feelings this year,” said Dr. Gleason.

“We want to think everyone will be in a position to have bigger or stronger feelings than they might have without Covid. Being physically separate shouldn’t mean we don’t mark this as a community, especially for the people who feel moved to do so. Within families you can make your own rituals like lighting a candle together, prayers, spending time outside, maybe creating a sign or a wreath.”

She says just don’t avoid the topic. This is still fresh. Children may still have questions. Let them know that having memories and feelings is healthy. We spoke with a local mother of an 11-year-old who talked about the teachable moments for her trying to navigate helping her son process such a heavy topic.

“As much as I want to minimize his exposure he was drawn to it because it was on the news,” said Jewel Cherry. “I didn’t want to deal with it but I knew I had to.  He would ask what would make someone so angry that he would go in and hurt people that he worked with every day? This was no random shooting.”

“Parents may see more mood changes,” said Dr. Gleason. “They may see irritability and anxiety, children needing reassurance about their own safety. They may see changes in sleep or eating.”

 Dr. Gleason says to give them space but let them know that it’s OK to talk and not to live in fear.

“There will be discussions and memories coming back for some of them,”said Dr. Gleason. “So one of the first things to remind children is about how rare these things are. They are incredibly powerful and tragic but also they don’t happen often”

Certainly, we all hope it never happens again here. Dr. Gleason says if you or your child experience a resurgence of emotions for more than a few days, if there are any thoughts of self-harm or hurting someone else, it’s time to reach out for help.

Here are links to useful resources to help you in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.



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