Supporting children in the wake of the Connecticut school shootings

by Claire McCarthy on December 16, 2012

I have a first grader.

Ever since the school shootings in Connecticut, I keep imagining someone coming into his classroom with a gun. It is more than I can cope with; I spent much of the weekend holding him—and keeping my other children close, too.  We kept the news coverage off, and put the newspapers into the recycling. We talked about it, but kept it very brief.

But once kids get out of the house and into the world, things get more complicated. It’s impossible to control what they hear from other children and adults. So parents need to talk with their children—and be prepared to do more talking in the days and weeks to come.

It’s so hard to talk to children about events like these. It’s so hard to talk about them at all, let alone with our children. We don’t know what to say. We don’t want to scare them—or let them see how scared we are. We feel like we should be able to explain what happened—but things like this defy all explanations.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Tell them what happened. It is important that they hear it from you, even if they have already heard something.  Give them the facts—but in a broad strokes way.
  • Answer their questions simply and honestly.
  • Make sure they know that events like these are very rare.  Schools and other public places are generally very safe.
  • Limit their exposure to media about the shooting—especially video.
  • Let them know that you, and other helping adults, are working all the time to keep them safe. Give examples of how you are doing this.
  • Talk about something concrete you can do as a family to help—like sending a donation to an organization helping those who were affected.
  • Understand that they, like you, may need some time to process what happened. They may have questions—be ready to answer them. They may be upset but not even know why, so be patient if they act out in unusual ways.
  • If your child is very sad or anxious, call your doctor for help.
  • Give extra hugs. They may need it. You may too. I know I’ve been needing a lot of them.

 

These resources may be helpful:

From Boston Children’s Hospital: Coping with Frightening Events

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has the following resources:

Talking with Kids About News, from PBS Parents. They also have tips on communication strategies.

How to Talk to Kids About Tragedies in the Media, from the Child Development Institute

Helping Children Cope with Tragedy-Related Anxiety, from Mental Health America

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a number of resources on their healthychildren.org website

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