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How parents can help each other cope with school shootings

"Those programs are for days like today when it feels really heavy," the executive director of Illuminate Colorado said.

DENVER — Tuesday's shooting in Texas stunned parents throughout the country. Nineteen children and two teachers were killed by a gunman at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. 

Jade Woodard is a mom in Colorado. She began to tear up as she thought about her morning with her 8-year-old daughter. 

"I think what happened yesterday was any parent's worst nightmare. I’m a mother myself. My third grader left for school today and I just stood on the porch with my heart aching for the families in Texas," she said. 

Woodard is not only a mom but the executive director of Illuminate Colorado, a non profit that helps parents be parents. She spoke to 9NEWS about how parents can support each other as they process these difficult situations, even from hundreds of miles away.

What can Illuminate Colorado provide to help parents cope with their emotions on days like today?

Woodard: The stress of what happened yesterday and the grief and managing it today is too much to hold alone and you don’t have to, we don’t have to. Parents need each other. We need people. We need connections. We need a village and here at Illuminate Colorado, we’re working to help create that, we’re working to help inspire those connections and supportive relationships that we all need to be able to thrive as parents, to be able to thrive as individuals and to be able to show up for our children and each other the way that we want to.

We do that through multiple different approaches. So we have direct programs called Circle of Parents. We have 34 Circle of Parents groups across Colorado. They are just groups that are run by parents for parents to show up and talk to other parents about what’s going on and what you’re feeling and those programs are for days like today when it feels really heavy and those programs are for when it feels really light and when you have things to celebrate, because we know that connections matter.

Being connected and having someone to talk to on good days and bad days, on heavy days and happy days is part of what helps us all to be able to make it through this life, to make it through this journey.

[The groups are] parent-led, parent driven, parents get to show up and decide what they talk about, when they talk about, if they don’t talk at all. The purpose is around connection. It’s around having a way to see and feel and just be in relationships, in the presence of others that are experiencing the same thing that you are.

How important is it for parents to make sure they acknowledge their emotions before talking to their children about the difficult situations? 

Woodard: It’s OK to not be OK today. It’s OK to not have the right words. It’s OK to not know how to talk to your 8-year-old as they leave for school. Parents don’t have to be perfect. They don’t have to be super heroes, we just have to be real and I think being able to process and talk to others and kind of deal with your own emotions and check in with yourself and kind of center yourself before you go into that conversation with your kids will help you as a parent, will help all parents to show up how they want to.

As their parents, we need to be safe and stable and real for them. That doesn’t mean perfect, that doesn’t mean we don’t get to have emotions and our own fears. But figuring out how to be centered for that conversation will help us to show up in a way for our kids in a way that is helping them to be centered as well.

Any message you want to send out there to parents having a difficult time right now?

 Woodard:  It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to be scared. It’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to not  have the answer, and we don’t have to. We don’t have to carry it alone and we don’t have to know all the answers, it’s OK to reach out, it’s OK to connect with someone. If you are someone who is feeling OK today, reach out to those in your network because they may not be. Hug your babies, hug your teenagers, hug your everything in between. We’re all wanting a few more squeezes today. Take a deep breath and center yourself, you don’t have to know all the answers today but it’s OK to just hug, it’s OK to ask for support, it’s OK to not be OK.

Illuminate Colorado's Circle of Parents have virtual and in-person sessions throughout the state. You can learn more about the different support groups and sign up online. 

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