How to talk to children when law enforcement officers are killed

By Cheryn Stone, Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, April 27, 2017, 11:31 AM EDT

This story was last updated on: 11:15 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017.

Following the deaths of two Central Florida law enforcement officers, parents might be struggling with the best way to talk to their children when officers are killed.

  • Mental health counselor suggests parents ask the children what they know
  • Mayeling Angelastro says parents should focus on making children feel safe

April Sullivan, a mother of three, taught her children to trust and respect officers.

"I have a 6-year-old son, and I mean, every time he goes anywhere where he sees a police officer, we encourage him to go thank them," she said.

Sullivan talked to her family over dinner about the deaths of Orlando Police Master Sgt. Debra Clayton and Orange County Deputy 1st Class Norman Lewis. The two were killed in the line of duty Monday during the manhunt for Markeith Loyd.

"We just said, 'Look, some really important people were killed. A female officer was killed today by a really, really bad man, and then another amazing officer who was on the way to go help her lost his life trying to help someone else,'" Sullivan said.

Mayeling Angelastro, a licensed mental health counselor, suggests parents talk to their children about the loss by first asking what they know.

"Initiate conversations about what the child is feeling and assess what they are thinking and whether or not they feel safe at the moment," she said.

Angelastro's advice to parents is to focus on making children feel safe.

"Our children know that law enforcement is here to protect us," she said. "And when they hear that we lost some law enforcement, they can definitely see the bad guys are winning — bad guys versus good guys. And it's really important to address that with the children. Not that the bad guys are winning, it's just unfortunate things can happen and do happen."

Sullivan was careful to be honest with her two daughters and son without making them live in fear.

"I need him to know that this person still was out there protecting you and lost her life," Sullivan said. "This guy went to protect his friend and lost his life, so at the end of the day, they are heroes to everyone — to our whole family."

Another suggestion from Angelastro was to have children make something like a card or art project to show their appreciation for law enforcement officers.