After the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, many parents are probably wondering what they say to their own children to help them understand.
The Portsmouth Patch reports that Lauren Hutchinson, a child and family therapist and parenting consultant, says that the first is to “turn off the TV”.
“We don’t want to have the TV playing in the background all the time. It isn’t helpful and the news is traumatizing for kids to watch.”
She said, for children ages 7 and younger, “you want to shield them from the media coverage completely and parents should not initiate a conversation about the event because kids this age cannot make sense of what has happened.”
“Kids don’t need to know the specific details of the event, like that the shooter was dressed all in black, they hold tight to those kinds of negative images,” she added.
For children ages 7 to 12, she said:
You might provide them with basic information and reassure them. The most important thing for kids this age is to know that they are safe. Talk about how parents and school teachers and staff work hard to protect kids and do tell them that the police ‘got the bad guy'”
Hutchinson said that parents should be open and that they need to “read the child’s cues and let them bring up what he or she wants to talk about.”
Hutchinson, who is a mother of two herself, said that she would talk in a different way to each of them because of their ages. She said:
“My 7th grader will have access to friends with smart phones and may have already heard about the event. With him I’m going to answer questions, not rehash the event, and respond to specific questions and concerns he has. With adolescents, there is an opportunity to talk in greater depth and have an actual conversation about what happened, what might make someone do something like this, etc. With my ten-year-old, I will tell him what happened in brief, non-descriptive language. ‘Something really terrible happened at a school in Connecticut today. A gunman shot some students and adults. Many families and the community are heartbroken over the senselessness of this act.’ Then I am going to hone in on him and his response. This may be enough information for him; other kids may seek greater detail. Either is okay. Be honest and direct without too many details.”
Hutchinson also said that it is important for parents to “not invalidate feelings and remember kids will take their cue from your responses. While we may be feeling weepy or mesmerized by the TV coverage, we need to remember our kids are watching us.”
According to Hutchinson, one of the most helpful things a parent can do during this time is “take action.” She said, “They need a meaningful way to express their emotions and process what happened.”
These actions could be as simple as a candle lit ceremony, praying together, or just sitting down and talking with them about it.
“Rituals are important, especially during times like these, for comfort and healing,” Hutchinson added.