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What vital steps child experts say parents should take before returning to Richneck Elementary School

Students are preparing for their return to Richneck Elementary Monday, three weeks after the shooting on January 6.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The tragic shooting at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News is heavy enough to weigh on the minds of the community, let alone on the minds of young students.

Three weeks after Newport News police say a 6-year-old intentionally shot his teacher Abby Zwerner, students are getting ready to return Monday morning. 

It's a big question on many minds: How will the students feel when they walk back into the school?

Experts on child psychology said it's an important thing parents should keep a close eye on over the weekend as students get closer to the return time. 

"Time is really what's going to be most helpful to reduce the tension and the stress," said Kurt Hooks, CEO of Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center.

He said parents should take the weekend to get back into a routine. While parents pay close attention to how their child is feeling, Hooks said it's vital for parents to focus on their behavior as well.

"The effect in the way that guardians handle their demeanor will be really helpful in setting the stage in a much smoother transition going back to school," Hooks explained.

Michele Tryon, a "Parent Educator" with Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters, said extra metal detectors and officers can add to the layers of physical school protection, but she said feeling supported emotionally and mentally starts at home.

"When our children show us with their behavior that there's something different going on, something we haven't been seeing before, maybe there's some regression of behavior, maybe they're withdrawn or maybe they're aggressive," said Tryon. "We really want to get down to what that behavior is telling us."

Tryon said parents can help their child prepare to re-enter the classroom by making the child feel comfortable talking. She said you can start by asking if the child understands what happened and ask what they can do to make them feel better.

"Can they be inclusive of other children? Can they invite someone to play with them? Whatever it is they can do...something they can do to make the world a kinder place and that makes them feel a sense of agency, rather than helplessness," said Tryon. "Try to normalize things as much as possible...even though this is an unfortunate and abnormal situation."

Tryon said it's also helpful to pay attention to your child's physical needs to give their minds extra strength to handle their journey ahead.

"Make sure our children physically are getting enough sleep, that they're eating well...a typical morning routine."

Michelle Price, a spokeswoman for the school division, said student support specialists will be at the school for counseling services. If individuals wish to have more time, they can schedule an appointment with the school for counseling. 

Price said parents will have a safe drop-off zone in front of the school where they can also escort their child into the school. Newport News police officers, including Chief Steve Drew, will be there to welcome students. 

She said administrators installed a state-of-the-art metal detector at the entrance of the school, which is the only place where students, parents, and teachers will be able to enter and leave the school.

Price said school administrators will check IDs at the door to ensure safety.

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