Experts Explain How to Talk to Our Kids About the Newtown School Shooting

tv newsIn the aftermath of this morning's horrifying shooting, a lot of us parents just want to pull our children close and never let them go. Parents in the area outside the district still wanted to pull their kids out of school as soon as they heard the news. Many of us are wondering how we will talk about this with our kids -- because it's very likely we will have to talk with our kids. No matter where you live, your kids will probably hear about this tragedy and they will have some strong emotions about it. Now is the time to think about how you're going to support them.

How do you help your kids deal with a traumatic event like a shooting? The advice I hear is that above all else, you need to have a conversation with your child and make sure they feel their fears are heard and understand. 


More from The Stir: Newtown Tragedy Is the Reason All Schools Should Have Shooting Drills

Talking with your child -- and listening to them -- should be your first step. The American Psychological Association has some helpful guidelines for helping your children manage distress

  • Find times when they are most likely to talk: such as when riding in the car, before dinner, or at bedtime.
  • Start the conversation; let them know you are interested in them and how they are coping with the information they are getting.
  • Listen to their thoughts and point of view; don't interrupt -- allow them to express their ideas and understanding before you respond.
  • Express your own opinions and ideas without putting down theirs; acknowledge that it is okay to disagree.
  • Remind them you are there for them to provide safety, comfort, and support. Give them a hug.

PBS has more suggestions for talking with your kids about the news:

  • Find out how much they know.
  • Ask them follow-up questions.
  • Explain the situation to them simply. 
  • Listen to and acknowledge their feelings and thoughts.
  • Offer reassurance.
  • Tailor your answers to your child's age.

Some more suggestions from APA:

Make sure your home feels like a safe haven. Think about what makes your child feel safe, secure, and cozy, and make sure it's right there. 

Watch for signs of stress. Some signs include: Trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating at school, acting out, changes in appetite. Sometimes kids can have a delayed reaction and seem fine at first, but later on show signs of distress.

Should you turn off the news? It's normal for kids to want to learn more in order to make sense of what has happened. But you should limit the amount of time they spend watching or reading the news. Kids may not be prepared for disturbing images, which can haunt them for weeks and months. And parents? We need to take breaks, too, and engage in activities that make us feel happier.

Common Sense Media has a video on explaining the news to our kids.

Finally, here's Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) with some wise words about helping your children deal with tragic events in the news. "What children probably need to hear most from us adults is that they can talk with us about anything and that we'll do all we can to keep them safe in any scary time." This is a time for great courage for us parents. We are sad and scared, too. But it's important that we draw our children close in these moments and have these difficult conversations with them.

Have you talked with your kids about tragic news like this before? What was helpful?


Image via Adriana Velez

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