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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The disturbing images and details came at us fast last Saturday as police swarmed the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill.

“Some pretty bad things can be shown, and I think its important that younger children not be exposed to that,” said Allegheny Health Network child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Gary Swanson.

Dr. Swanson understands the unsettling nature these past few days in Pittsburgh can have on all of us, including our youngest residents.

“Often times, they will pick up on your emotions. If you are a little bit anxious or distressed by it, they’ll think, I don’t want to upset them, so I won’t ask a question, but that perpetuates this silence where nobody is talking about it,” Dr. Swanson says.

He says teenagers can understand more than you might think.

“I think you should always be prepared to start the conversation. It’s the adult’s job to be the adult, and if there’s something on TV, and your teenager is watching, you can say, ‘Do you have any questions about that?’” he said.

KDKA’s John Shumway: “Can parents over answer a question?

Dr. Swanson: “Yes. You want to answer the question that the child ask you, and then stop there and see what the next question is. So, if a child says, ‘Why does this happen?’ I think you have a number of different answers. ‘Well, son, sometimes people do bad things. That’s the way people are sometimes.’ That’s answered that question and hasn’t gone any further than that.”


Children might also have reservations about going to synagogue or even church.

“I think it’s going to be part of what they are going to grapple with and deal with, and if you’re a parent, you have to be aware your kids may be nervous and anxious about that,” Dr. Swanson said.

So reassurance is the job, and Dr. Swanson says to emphasize how truly rare attacks like the one at the Tree of Life Synagogue are.

Churches, synagogues, places of worship are, and have been, a safe place to be. And that really isn’t any different today than it was yesterday,” he said.