Parents, community brace for heavy conversations, graphic images

Different problems for different age groups

 UPDATED 6:56 PM HST Dec 18, 2012

"I'm going on 30 years in the police department and just looking at something like that shakes you to the core," said Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, who was one of the many leaders speaking out on Friday, torn up on a day of immense tragedy.

"It's awful that any family or individual would experience such a heart-wrenching sorrow, especially during the holiday season," said Mayor Peter Carlisle.

"In my hometown right now, there's been nine bomb threats in less than a week," said April George. She was at Honolulu Hale viewing Christmas decorations with her 12-year-old daughter, Abrianna.

The George family moved to Hawaii from Texas in June.

She said she tries to have open, frank conversations with her family.

"Like any other shocking and difficult situation, it's important for the children to hear from their parents," said psychologist Dr. Marvin Acklin.

He said people, especially young children, can be susceptible to serious trauma simply by watching what someone else is experiencing.

"I think that we're all susceptible, and I think the news media, because it's visually based, has a particular power. It's immediate, it's intense, it's visual," he said.

"I try not to talk to her about it. I feel really bad for those people. I'd hate to be in their shoes," said Son Nguyen, who was at Honolulu Hale with his 8-year-old daughter, Camilla. 

"I think in these particular instances we're all like one big family. We identify with those parents. We identify with those people at the school. So, I think we collectively share the horror and the shock and grief," said Acklin.

Acklin believes it's up to parents to decide what to tell their children, to be mindful of their age, their fragility and the images sure to enter their world. 

"The most important thing is that she knows she has a safe place at home," said George.

Experts say different age groups often have different reactions.

Preschoolers may feel helpless, anxious, problems with potty training.

School age children have a heightened concern for their family, physical ailments.

Adolescents may be more likely to become withdrawn, or become destructive. 

They say if you need more advice, get help from a counselor or your pediatrician.

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