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Let kids talk about what they saw, what they're feeling, Franklin Regional parents told

| Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 11:42 p.m.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional High School Students and parents embrace along School Road in Murrysville on Wednesday, April 9, 2014, after a male student armed with a knife stabbed several students and an adult.

What do you tell them?

Parents likely wondered Wednesday how to talk with children who saw friends fall at the hands of a fellow student at Franklin Regional High School. Students in other districts might worry that something like that could happen at their school, experts said.

It's important for parents not to pass anxiety onto their children, said Paul Friday, chief of clinical psychology at UPMC Shadyside. He suggests parents reassure their children that “they are safe ... (and) statistically, this was an anomaly.”

“Be careful but not paranoid,” he said. “If they don't have a problem, don't give it to them. You don't have to walk them to school.”

It's important to listen to what kids say.

“Give it a couple of days and talk about it again — and let them talk,” he said.

Psychiatrist Anandhi Narasimhan said parents should look for telltale signs of anxiety such as nightmares, fear about going outside or worry that it will happen again.

“Research shows the best thing is to get back to normal sooner than later,” said Narasimhan, of Los Angeles, who grew up in East Liberty and Shaler, and has friends with children at Franklin Regional.

Parents should take advantage of counseling the school district offers, she said.

“Let them talk about it, let them process it,” Narasimhan said. “Sit down and let them talk.”

Signs of trauma don't always surface in the first week or two.

“Parents need to communicate to their kids that, while these things seem to happen a lot, they do not,” said Steven Berkowitz, associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine and director of Penn Center for Youth and Family Trauma Response and Recovery.

“There's no reason to be afraid about your school,” he said. “After events like this, things are usually much safer.”

Berkowitz said maintaining routine is important: “When you succumb to it, change what you're doing, it interferes with feeling. ... It is literally ‘getting back on the horse.' ”

The National Association of Social Workers, Pennsylvania Chapter, said it is committed to “assist those involved with this tragedy.”

“We are confident that our trained and qualified social workers will assist the students, families, and Murrysville community in the coping and healing process,” the group said in a statement.

The group's executive director, Ron Simon, urged people in Murrysville to “commit as a community to not only address this issue, but prevent tragedies such as this from happening.”

Craig Smith is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5646 or csmith@tribweb.com.

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