By now you probably have heard about the horrific events that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut this morning. While adults try to comprehend the senseless acts of violence, what ways can you help your children cope with this tragedy?
You’re probably wondering if you should talk to your kids about this and how to talk to them about it. I honestly think there is no reason to talk to them about it if they have not been exposed to the information. Shelter your children from all the media! Parents, block the channels that news may be on. Change your home page for your web browser and hide newspaper images. There is no need to traumatize your kids. There is nothing good that will come out of sharing this information with them if they are young. Children need to feel safe and any information about the tragedy in Connecticut will erase all there feelings of stability and safety.
If you know that they have been exposed and or if they ask questions or if they seem off then you should talk to them no matter what age. Invite them to ask questions, and answer them without giving out too much additional information. If you just start speaking it can be too much info for them to handle at that moment.
Always keep open communication with kids. At times like this, especially, say to them “You can talk to me if you are ever upset or have any questions about anything.” Let them lead the way. Regardless of them knowing what really is going on they will sense that something is off. They absorb our emotions. This is a time to help them feel extra safe, loved, and secure regardless of if they actually know what is going on. They can sense changes and they need to feel stable.
It’s crucially important that the conversation you and your children have is age-specific to what they have the ability to understand. A 5 year old cannot understand the same concepts as a 10 year old, for example. Make sure you do not offer too much information, just respond to their questions. This will allow children to absorb as much as they can handle. They need time to process what you are telling them. Don’t offer too much extra information until they ask for it.
Even with your best efforts to shield your children from the media, it’s still possible that your children will become exposed to the tragedy around them. Children pick up on the emotions of others, whether that is sadness, hurt, anger, devastation, or grief. Children recognize when things are different. Below are several tips that can help guide you in talking with your children about this tragedy.
- Answer all questions that they may have truthfully, but with as much information as you feel your child can handle. For example, if your child asks why people are crying, answer with something like “today a person made a bad choice that has hurt a lot of people, and they feel sad.” This is relaying honest information to them without giving them information that they will not understand or cannot process.
- Don’t over-explain. Sometimes it can be easy to get carried away with explanations when you are nervous, or stressed. Answer their questions with short, to the point, answers in short, direct statements.
- After each answer, pause and wait for your children to digest the information and for them to ask any follow-up questions. Give them time to think about your answer and process their thoughts.
- Answer one question at a time and be cautious not to oversaturate them with information.
- Let them know that they are always welcome to ask you any questions they may have and that nothing they ask will make you upset.
- If you do not have the answers to their questions, don’t make up an answer. Instead, tell your child that you will find out and make the necessary steps to retrieve accurate and honest information to their question.
- Validate their feelings. Don’t tell them not to be sad, or not to worry. Instead, use phrases like “I understand that you feel scared, and that is ok. It is ok to feel scared..” The more you normalize their feelings, the more secure they will feel about opening up to you.
If your child happens to find out the details of this tragedy they may begin to feel unsafe. Children will be more concerned about themselves and their safety rather than having empathy for others during this time. That is normal, and your child needs to hear your reassurance during this time rather than explaining to them that this isn’t about them. It’s really important to reassure your children of their safety both at home, and at school. Understandably, some children may be fearful to attend school. Walk them through their schools safety plan of how they do not let strangers in the building, their school has safety measures put in place, and more, but in age appropriate terms. Help them to feel safe.
Our thoughts go out to the victims and their families of the Connecticut tragedy today. While this is unspeakable, we have an important role as parents and educators to protect our children from the traumatization of this horrific event. Please share this with any parent, or educator, that you know so that we can all aid in protecting our children together.