Talking with kids about the Sandy Hook massacre
Editor’s Note: The following was provided by the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center:
As the nation watches the reports about the recent Connecticut elementary school shooting, many people may find themselves feeling anxious, worried, saddened or otherwise concerned. While adults may know how to express these feelings, often they do not know how to talk with children about such a tragedy.
According to Dr. David Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, parents should:
n Talk about the event with your children. Silence is not comforting in crisis situations and suggests that what has occurred is too horrible to speak of. After a major crisis, even very young children have likely already heard what has happened — but they may not understand what it means.
n Start by asking what your children have heard about the events and what questions or concerns they have. Listen for misinformation, misconceptions and any underlying fears or concerns. If the children express worry, sadness or fear, tell them what adults are doing to keep them safe, but do not provide false reassurance or dismiss their concerns. Help them identify strategies to cope with difficult feelings.
n Minimize your children’s exposure to media (television, radio, print, Internet, social media), and if they do watch, consider recording, screening and watching with them. Children often overhear or see what you are watching on TV or listening to on the radio, or they may be exposed directly as the news evolves through the Internet or social media. While children may seek and benefit from basic information about what happened so that they can understand what is happening in their world, they do not benefit from graphic details or exposure to disturbing images or sounds, nor, for that matter, do the adults in their lives. The aftermath of a crisis is a good time to disconnect from all media and sit down together and talk as a family.
n Encourage your children to ask questions now and in the future, and answer their questions. Like adults, children are better able to cope with a crisis if they feel they understand it. Question-and-answer exchanges provide you with the opportunity to offer support as your children begin to understand the crisis and the response to it.
n Share your feelings about the shooting with your children and the strategies you have used to cope with your concerns, sadness or other difficult feelings. If you feel overwhelmed and/or hopeless, look for support from other adults before reaching out to your children.
n Reassure your children that feeling sad, worried or angry is OK. Let them know that it is all right to be upset about something bad that happened. Use the conversation to take the opportunity to talk about other troubling feelings your children may have.
n Do not feel obligated to give a reason for what happened. Although adults often feel the need to provide a reason why someone committed such a crime, many times they do not know. It is OK to tell your children that you do not, at this time, know why such a crime was committed.
n If you have concerns about your children’s behavior, contact their pediatrician, other primary care provider or a qualified mental health care specialist.
For information on how to help your children cope with crises or disasters, visit the website of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at www.cincinnatichildrens.org/school-crisis.