St. Johns County

How to talk to your kids about tragedy in light of 13-year-old Tristyn Bailey’s death

ST. JOHNS, Fla. — We spoke to a psychiatrist who is a neighbor in the St. Johns community, and he is offering his services for free for any families who need some guidance.

A father in the St. Johns community is offering his mental health resources to families who are navigating the topic of 13-year-old Tristyn Bailey’s passing.

Dr. Dan Weinberg, or Dan as his neighbors know him, was at the Durbin Crossing South Amenity Center Monday afternoon for anyone who wanted to talk.

RELATED: Tristyn Bailey case: 14-year-old boy facing murder charge after St. Johns County girl found dead

His 20 years of experience in psychiatry have taught him to speak openly about tragic events with his family.

“It’s not something scary or taboo we can’t talk about,” he said.

So he didn’t wait to share the news of Tristyn Bailey’s passing with his eight-year-old son, who is also a student at Patriot Oaks Academy.

“[My wife and I] said, ‘Hey there was an incident,’” Weinberg said, recalling the conversation he had with his son Sunday evening.

“‘Unfortunately a girl at your school has passed away and we don’t know the details,’” he continued. “‘We don’t know why, we don’t know how it happened but we know a person at your school has died and gone to heaven, and we wanted to let you know before you heard it at school.’”

He waited to see if his son had any questions.

“We just kind of let it process, [my son] went to his room to play with his Legos and the first thing he said is, ‘Am I safe?’ And the answer was ‘Yes, absolutely, you are 100 percent safe.’”

Weinberg says he’ll be here at the Durbin Crossing South Amenity Center to show parents they can do it too.

“You can’t really mess it up. You can’t really say the wrong thing,” he said. “As long as you’re talking to your kid in a loving way, it’s going to be helpful.”

RELATED: St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office says body found is believed to be reported missing 13-year-old girl, community is grieving

Weinberg says parents worry about which responses are normal and which aren’t in situations like this. He suggested parents track any changes in their child’s eating or sleeping behavior over time.

Even though grieving is normal, lingering erratic behavior is not.

“Give them a few days, give them a week or a couple of weeks but after a couple of weeks they should be coming out of that,” he said.

Child psychologist Lynn Wadelton explained that Bailey’s passing could be a trigger for teens, especially those who knew the 13-year-old, because teens see friends as family.

“They like to gather together and that they can have support from each other and grieve together as a group and that’s a very powerful healing tool for them,” she said.

Even if they didn’t know Bailey, they could still be mourning.

“If you can think about people that we didn’t know but that were public figures that were tragically killed. Even if we didn’t know them, we still experienced grief and mourning,” Wadelton pointed out.

But she wants to reassure teens that they can still honor Bailey in a healthy manner and continue their routines.

“You still have to go to school, you still have to eat and sleep and play and do all of those healthy things,” Wadelton said. “You can do those things while still grieving while still remembering.”

RELATED: Timeline of events in disappearance, death of St. Johns County teen Tristyn Bailey

Meanwhile, Weinberg was at the Durbin Crossing Amenity Center from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to hold a free, informal session for anyone who wanted to talk or ask questions, but he understands his community needs time.

“I’d be surprised if anyone comes,” he said. “Because everyone’s in shock right now.”

Weinberg said he’d be up for doing sessions or roundtables once a week to answer any questions from parents if the need is there.