Childhood should be an idyllic time, with few worries. Unfortunately, on December 14, the appalling shooting of 26 people in a small town in Connecticut, which included 20 young children, has left the nation numb with anguish. We all wonder why this happened and try to look for answers. As much as we would like to shield our children from this tragedy, it is inevitable that they will see something on television or hear adults talking about it. The Michigan Association for the Education of Young Children (MiAEYC) offers some experts and their suggestions on how to deal with this sad and difficult situation.
Sarah Cady Becker, Director, Williams College Children’s Center, Williamstown, Massachusetts, shared some thoughts about dealing with such tragic events;
- In order to protect children from unnecessary worry, avoid talking about the situation with other adults in front of them. We so often think that children will not be aware of what we are saying, but they are often keenly aware of emotions, if not the actual context of what adults are saying. They can so easily get the message that there is something unsafe and because they cannot grasp the context or only hear bits and pieces, they may feel especially ungrounded
- Minimize exposure to media coverage
- If children become aware of the situation, and this will most likely be the case with the School Age children and could be a possibility for older pre-school children, they need opportunities to talk
- Be sensitive as to whether your child is indicating that he/she knows something about the situation without asking directly, “Did you hear about the school in Connecticut?”
- If they bring the topic to you, ask what your child knows about and ask what they are wondering about. That way you can tailor your responses toward clarifying what the child wants to know or misunderstands without having to talk about the whole incredibly complex topic
- Keep your responses simple
- Acknowledge, “Yes, I heard about that too. You’re right. It is a terrible thing and the person who did this was very wrong.”
- While there is no way that you can guarantee your child’s safety, simply saying “The grown-ups will always do everything we can to keep you safe” is what children most need to hear
The following is from an article titled, “Tips for Talking to Children and Youth After Traumatic Events: A Guide for Parents and Educators”
Tips for Talking to Children After a Traumatic Event
- Provide children with opportunities to talk about what they are seeing on television and to ask questions.
- Do not be afraid to admit that you cannot answer all of their questions.
- Answer questions at a level the child can understand.
- Provide ongoing opportunities for children to talk. They probably will have more questions as time goes on.
- Use this as an opportunity to establish a family emergency plan. Feeling that there is something you can do may be very comforting to both children and adults.
- Allow children to discuss other fears and concerns about unrelated issues. This is a good opportunity to explore these issues also.
- Monitor children’s television watching. Some parents may wish to limit their child’s exposure to graphic or troubling scenes. To the extent possible, be present when your child is watching news coverage of the event. It is at these times that questions might arise.
Young children are intuitive. We, as adults, need to be forthright and answer questions that meet your child’s level of understanding. Most of all, hug your child and reassure them that they are loved. Drawing some pictures may help a very young child express his/her feelings. Just spending quiet time reading or playing a game with your child may help him or her to know that you are there for them. We will get through this difficult time, and hopefully our children will one day recapture their idyllic childhood.
Talking to Children about the School Shooting
Another article on “Helping Children Cope with Tragedy Related Anxiety”
Tips for Helping Students Recovering from Traumatic Events