With the heartbreaking and horrifying events that happened yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut, many of us are reeling: Not only are we all holding our babies a little tighter today and swallowing back our deepest fears as we fathom putting them on schoolbuses and dropping them off at their schools on Monday, but we may not know how to talk to our children about the tragedy. While many of us discussed yesterday’s shootings with our children last night, some of us haven’t yet. Here are some tips on talking about tragedies with our children:
- Talk about it. Yes, it’s hard, but do it this weekend, before they go back to school on Monday. Most of the kids in your child’s class are going to hear about what happened before then, and they will be talking about it themselves. Also, depending on your child’s age and grade, the teacher might talk about it, too. You want the information to come from you first.
- Reassure them that they are as safe as possible. If your child’s school has special sign-in procedures for visitors or other safety measures in place to prevent unauthorized people from being on the grounds, talk about them. If your child is worried about his safety at home, mention the facts that apply, such as the fact that you live in a safe area, that you have a large dog, that you have an alarm system, etc. Also, assure them that you and other adults in the community (teachers, police officers) are there to protect them. Stress that these incidents happen very rarely, and that they are no less safe today than they were yesterday or the day before.
- Limit their exposure to the news. Hearing the shooting discussed on the radio or seeing disturbing interviews and images on television can be very disturbing to adults, not to mention children. Last night, I changed the radio station twice when the topic came up; I didn’t want my kids to get their information from radio personalities at their ages.
- Talk about the helpers. You may have read the quote by Mr. Rogers about looking for the helpers in any tragedy. Stress to your child that there are many more good people than bad people in the world, and that others step forward to help keep kids safe. When there’s an emergency, people give blood, food, clothing and other items in order to help. This can be reassuring to a child.
- Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know why people do the things they do. No one knows what was going through the mind of the person who pulled the trigger, and we don’t know why these things happen.
- Encourage your child to talk about her fears. As the days, weeks and even months pass, she may have more thoughts about the topic that she needs to express. If she is young, she might act out or express some of her feelings with her toys, her play or her art supplies. This can be very healthy behavior and should be encouraged.
- Get professional help if you think that your child is too anxious or depressed. If he seems very fearful for more than a few nights or if he is very afraid of going to school next week, talk to his pediatrician. She can either set your mind at ease that it’s developmentally appropriate or refer him for counseling, if it’s needed.
We express our sincere condolences to those affected by this tragedy.