“Kids are going to have really difficult questions,” Explaining school shootings to children

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Parents and teachers alike should know it's OK to not have all of the answers when children have questions about tragic events, experts say.

NBC News reports already in 2018, there have been at least 17 instances of gun violence in U.S. schools. That includes Wednesday's shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people and wounded 14 others. The suspected gunman, identified as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

Authorities say he opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where he once attended.

Addressing the families of the victims, teachers, and others in the Parkland, Florida community, President Donald Trump said the entire nation "with a heavy heart is praying."

"We are all joined together as one American family and your suffering is our burden also," Trump said Thursday. "No parent should ever have to fear for their sons and daughters when they kiss them goodbye in the morning."

Melissa Dodson, a licensed therapist in Oklahoma City, said having an open and honest conversation with children is important, even though it may be difficult. She recommends parents to first sort out their own feelings.

"I do think it’s OK for parents to admit to kids that they’re feeling sad or that they’re grieving an event like that happened yesterday. I think it’s OK for kids to hear that from their parents," said Dodson.

Dodson also recommends children to lead the conversation by telling parents what they know about the event first, not the other way around. According to Dodson, there are also ways parents can phrase questions.

"So…with open-ended questions like, 'how do you feel?' Instead of 'do you feel scared?' And that allows kids to tell us how they feel and lead the conversation," she explained. "Kids are going to have really difficult questions about what has gone on, about why somebody would do such a thing, or if it’s going to happen again, and I would give parents permission to not have all the answers."

She said it's important to create a safe space.

"If they’re putting love and energy into those conversations, then that is inherently going to be a safe place for those kids and that’s going to create a sense of safety for them," she said.