A man pays tribute to the victims of an elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on Saturday. Photo: AFP
Parents should monitor how much media coverage their children are exposed to in the wake of the horrendous school shooting in Connecticut so they do not become traumatised or overwhelmed, child experts warn.
The Australian Child and Adolescent Trauma, Loss and Grief Network at the Australian National University has cautioned parents, carers and healthcare professionals to ''be mindful of the impacts this tragedy could have on Australian children''.
ACT Education director-general Diane Joseph said parents were emotionally affected by the tragedy and saturated television coverage could lead to children feeling upset and frightened.
She said ACT teachers were aware of heightened anxiety among children and would inform parents if a child appeared to be overly distressed by events in the US.
She said Canberra schools had policies and practices in place for lockdowns in the event of a school intruder and that students could be assured they were being cared for in a safe environment.
''My advice to parents at this time is to respond openly and honestly with children about what happened but also to reassure them about safety and support in schools,'' Ms Joseph said.
Each semester, ACT students take part in a lockdown drill. Window blinds are closed, doors locked and children are instructed to seek shelter in corners of the classroom or under desks.
Macquarie Primary principal Wendy Cave said students at her school had responded admirably to a lockdown last year after a suspicious package was discovered on the grounds. Police cordoned off the area and the specialist response and security bomb response team attended the scene.
In July last year, students at Florey Primary School were disrupted when men, who may have been armed, ran across the public oval. A teacher was told the men had tried to rob a nearby shop and students were ushered to a safer area. In May last year, Wanniassa School went into lockdown for 20 minutes after a student had a violent outburst.
Ms Cave said: ''Our teachers are very skilled at doing these drills and precautionary training in a way that doesn't breed hysteria.
''But children are not robots, they will talk about things that are on their minds and teachers won't baulk from discussing the events in Connecticut. But they will be cautious and general and, most importantly, soothing and reassuring. It's a case of balancing real information and perspective.''
Beverley Raphael, a professor of psychological medicine at the ANU medical school and chairwoman of the Australian Child and Adolescent Trauma, Loss and Grief Network, expressed the network's sadness over the shootings and reminded people of the support resources available.
''We all extend our wishes and condolences during this tragic time,'' she said. ''We also recognise the great courage of both those who have died and those who have survived.
''Tragic incidents often lead us to be touched once more by our own traumas, our own losses, our own grief and these are often brought to the surface again by such experiences. So it is an important time to recognise this grief and to comfort one another or even to seek help if the distress is very great.
''It is also a time to think about what impact this tragic news may have on children here in Australia. In this era of almost unfettered access to the internet, news, media and social media, children and young people are often repeatedly exposed to tragedies, disasters and the horrors that they bring.''
She said young children could be particularly affected by the coverage.
''Limiting children's exposure to media can help, as can making sure that parents, carers and families spend time talking to their children, answering questions and providing information that is age appropriate,'' she said.
Further information and resources are available at earlytraumagrief.anu.edu.au