Children and Tragedy

How do we talk to our kids about the unspeakable mass shooting in Connecticut? If we can’t make sense of it ourselves, how can we help our children make sense of it? This episode is pushing us up to and beyond our limits regarding tragedies. And where can we feel safe anymore?

These are all big questions to ask, and ones that we will be asking ourselves for a long time.

Here are some tips:

*Tune into your own emotions first.
Your child will be highly attuned to your emotions, even if she doesn’t indicate it. Your tone of voice, body language and conversations with others will be noticed. It’s therefore important to talk to your child about what you are feeling. You don’t, however, want her to feel overwhelmed by them, so it’s important to calmly talk about your emotions in a way she can understand.

*Be aware of of your child’s emotions.
Does he seem anxious or depressed? Do you notice any unusual behaviors such as angry outbursts or silent withdrawal? Does he ask many questions about violence and death?

*Ask open-ended questions.
In this instance, you could ask, “What are your feelings about the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school?” “What have you heard about it so far?”

*Be empathic and non-judgmental.
Children’s reactions will vary according to their developmental stage and past experiences. There is no right or wrong way to respond to tragedy, and it’s common to vacillate between different feelings. If your child does not want to talk, then respect that, and tell her that’s ok. You can also tell her that some kids find it helpful to talk, and that you are always there to listen.

*Don’t provide unnecessary details.
Your child doesn’t need to know all the details, and the younger they are, the less they are able to process. Some details will be too upsetting, and aren’t necessary to have, to understand what happened. Keep answers brief, simple and age appropriate.

*Provide reassurance.
Let her know that this was a very unusual situation, and will likely never happen again. Tell her that people are working on making schools safer. and that you will always be focused on protecting her from harm. Maintaining your usual routines can also be reassuring and help restore a sense of safety.

*Get support for you and your child.
Connect with friends who you can talk with and keep your child connected with his friends. And if that’s not enough, get professional help. Trained mental health professionals can help you and your child through the ups and downs of a tragedy like this.

*And lastly, take action!
Get involved with community and national discussions. Be part of the process to make change so that this kind of tragedy won’t happen again. This will help with the sense of hopelessness and helplessness that can be overwhelming.

My heart goes out to every parent in this country. Lives have been changed forever, and the healing process will be long. I hope that we as a nation will take the necessary responsibility to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.