Parenting tips on how to talk with children about death and tragedy

PHOENIX - It was a tough day for students and faculty returning to Madison Middle School after a 13-year-old was killed over the winter break.

Authorities said that 51-year-old Gary Sherrill admitted to killing his son David with an ax because he thought his son was a demon and going to eat him.

Madison school officials sent a note home to parents briefly explaining the situation, as well as letting them know that grief counselors would be on hand.

On the same day that David was killed, a Tolleson father allegedly killed his two young daughters in what police called a murder-suicide.

For parents the news is sad and horrific, but for children, it can be traumatizing.

Julie Rosen, executive director of Parenting Arizona, said it's important for parents to talk with their children about the events that occurred, making sure to leave out the details they don't need to know, as well as ensuring them that they are safe.

"What we don't want to do is exasperate the situation by telling the children, 'Oh, this is so horrible. I can't believe this is happening. What is the world coming to?'" she said.

Rosen said it is OK for parents to answer their children's questions, but take into consideration the child's age when deciding which details to share.

It's also a good reminder for parents to watch their conversations around young children.

"Children are cognizant of everything. Even if we're talking on the phone to the neighbor, they're listening to everything," she said.

Parents should also look for any change in their child's normal routines to know whether or not they're processing the situation well, said Rosen.

As an example, Rosen said a warning sign would be if a child that is typically very social all of the sudden becomes shy and reserved.

Mourners put together a vigil for David Sunday night outside of his home.

Dozens of candles and many cards and letters were left saying how much everyone will miss him.

There's been no official date set yet for David's funeral.

If you would like to help with funeral expenses, there's been an account set up in David's name at Wells Fargo.

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