As a country we are once again shaken to our core because a horrific event has happened, another school shooting. I’m writing as both a parent educator and as a mom to help you help your children understand the unthinkable.
The shooting in Conneticut reminds me of the 9/11 attacks when my children were only 9, 7 and 3 1/2 and I found myself feeling sad, angry and numb. “Things like this don’t happen in our country, in our community” was my thought during the 9/11 event, the shootings in Columbine, in movie theaters and shopping malls.
How adults react matters...
For many of us, the 9/11 attacks were the first time national news truly caused anxiety for our kids. I remember watching the newscasts trying to gather as much information as I could before the kids came home from school, from that point on the tv was off. My oldest reported that her teachers told her class about the attacks and reassured them that it was far away from where we live. Teachers also shared that there are many, many brave and smart people working to find out what happened and devoted to keeping us safe, what a reassuring thought for young kids.
As time went on the kids asked about tidbits of information they heard on the playground, from adults talking to each other, and from what they heard on tv. I tried to shelter them from most of the newscasts, it made me depressed and I couldn’t imagine what it would to do children so young. Keeping them on their daily routine, not exhausting them with information and keeping things as "normal" as we could did help.
What parents can do when tragedy strikes
Keep news coverage to a minimum Very young children won’t understand repeated coverage isn’t the same as the tragedy happening again. Other children may feel helpless and afraid.
Limit your conversations When talking to another adult about this or any other crisis, be aware that your child may be listening and could misunderstand parts of the conversation which may cause additional anxiety.
Ask about discussions at school Older children might be having discussions of “current events” in their classrooms (my son’s social studies class covers current events every day). It’s important to ask your child what she is hearing so that you can help her sort out fact from “hearsay.”
Talk about safety at school Young children need assurances that their schools are doing all they can do to keep them safe. Ask your child about the emergency drills (fire, tornado, personal safety) they practice. Listen to his opinions on the measures taken and brainstorm solutions to any concerns he may have.
Share stories about the adults who helped Talk about the teachers in the classrooms, the police officers, the doctors helping to heal the wounded. It will remind your child that even during times of tragedy, there are many people who are doing the right things, helping others and showing compassion. Your kids can even write a note of support to the children of Sandy Hook school, allowing them to show empathy for another child.
Most importantly, listen to your child and respect and acknowledge their feelings! For some children it might be a moment of sadness or shock and then they go right back to their usual routine. On the other hand, your child may express fear, stress or sadness once they process the news. If your child shares his fears, reflect his feelings and talk with him about it. “I understand that what happened is scary. Let's talk about what our family can do to stay safe.” This will acknowledge fears and then empower your child by brainstorming solutions.
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