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Tips on how to talk to your kids about threats and violence

More than 1,000 Colorado schools canceled class Wednesday while law enforcement searched for a woman the FBI believed was making credible threats against Denver area schools.

It's been a long and worrisome 24 hours for parents of more than a half a million students across the Denver metropolitan area. 

At the start of the day Wednesday, students from more than 1,000 schools were told to stay home from school because of a credible school threat involving an 18-year-old woman from Florida. She was being sought by law enforcement before she was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Wednesday morning. 

Districts across the Denver area have since announced that schools will reopen Thursday, many with additional security measures.

So how can you talk to your kids about how the events unfolded? Dr. Sheryl Ziegler, a child and family therapist, shared some tips with 9NEWS on how parents can start the discussion with their children. (Editor's note: Responses have been edited for context and clarity.)  

9NEWS: How do you start the conversation with your kids?

Ziegler: All ages you have to tell the truth about why school is canceled today. When you’re talking about middle school and high school aged kids, if you don’t tell them, someone else will. They have access to social media, they’re seeing it on television, so you need to have a conversation. Make it a bigger conversation about mental health. Make it a bigger conversation about how this was someone very troubled, and that she needed help. 

What do you tell kids that struggle with the concept of going back to school after a threat like this? 

Ziegler: Even if your kids seem okay right now and tonight, when they get to school tomorrow, the energy and talk of the school will change anybody’s mood. Take some time tonight…really talk to one another. Then tomorrow morning, with the younger kids, take the time to walk them in. Take the time to review the safety protocols at school. Take the time to remind them that they are safe and that everyone did the right in keeping everyone out of school to be safe.

What would you tell high schoolers about the situation as we near the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School mass shooting?

Ziegler: For juniors and seniors in high school right now, talk to them about what has changed over the last 20 years. What have we learned? What good came out of a horrendous tragedy? And what’s going to be your role in propelling the future to be even healthier and safer? This is fraught for great conversation if you take the opportunity to do it. 

What about tomorrow and looking forward? 

Ziegler: This is, to me, is an ongoing conversation because it has to do with mental illness, it has to do with suicide, it has to do with peers and understanding how are people doing. We have to remember that this was an 18-year-old teenager that we’re talking about. I think in some ways that maybe even makes it slightly more relatable to a kid in school. Keep the conversation going this weekend and beyond. 

You can read more tips on talking to children about violence by clicking or tapping this link.

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