‘Be Honest’: Psychiatrist Details Talking With Children After Tragic Events

While explaining tragedy is difficult, a psychiatrist said listening to your children talk about how they feel is most important

A murder-suicide that left a father, mother, and three of their sons dead in Paradise Hills on Saturday sent shock waves of grief through San Diego County and left parents struggling to explain the tragic violence to their children.

Ezekiel Valdivia, 9, is the only surviving victim of the shooting. The Paradise Hills Elementary School student remains in critical condition on life support, according to San Diego police.

At school, Ezekiel’s classmates are anxious for the day he can rejoin them at recess. At home, they’re challenging their parents with the inevitable questions.

“There’s a lot of questions,” parent Angelica Alvarez Shatokin said. “They want to know how did it happen, is he OK, when is he going to come out? Why?”

The last one might be the most difficult to answer.

Police say an ongoing domestic dispute, wrought by alcoholism, harassment and threats, according to court documents, led Jose José Valdivia, 31, to shoot and kill his estranged wife Sabrina Rosario, 29, and their sons Enzi Valdivia, 3, Zuriel Valdivia, 5, and Zeth Valdivia, 11, and then himself.

Ezekiel, Zeth and Zuriel all went to Paradise Hills Elementary School.

“How do I break down domestic violence? How do I approach that their classmates aren’t going to be there?” expressed Alvarez Shatokin.

Discussions like these can be difficult because they often come following child’s first experience with violence, tragedy or death, according to a Sharp Mesa Vista psychiatrist

“What’s difficult for these kids is that for some of them it’s their first time of learning the finality of death and not recognizing how do we handle this,” said Dr. Joseph Kosmach, Sharp Mesa Vista's Medical Director of Child and Adolescent Services.

Explaining what happened over the weekend in Paradise Hills isn’t easy, but Kosmach said listening to children talk about how they feel is most important.

His advice for parents is to maintain your routine and to talk your kids about the classmate who is no longer with them or in the hospital.

“Be honest in regards to your feelings. Let your child know you’re sad and that you miss their classmate as well, because they’re going to look at you as to how you respond,” Kosmach said,

Kosmach added that parents should use their judgement when trying to decide what details to filter when talking to their children.

A classmate of Ezekiel’s told NBC 7 Monday he sought help from counselors on campus. He said the counselor took him on a walk, and colored and played with him until he forgot about the sad news.

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