December 14, 2012
Today’s tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., has left all of us shaken, especially parents, who may be wondering how to talk to their children about the shooting.
We talked to Jodi Bauers, child life manager at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, who offered some guidance for parents.
She said that the biggest question children are likely to have is whether something similar can happen to them. Parents should reassure them and help them feel safe while also providing age and developmentally appropriate information.
Her other tips for talking to your children about the shooting include:
- Take care of yourself first. Calm your own fears and anxiety before talking to your children. They pick up on your emotions, and your calm demeanor will go a long way to reassure.
- Turn off TV and other media. Graphic details and images can be upsetting to all of us. Younger children may think that the event is happening over and over. Tuning in for the latest is tempting; pace yourself with the news and listen in only when children are out of earshot.
- Consider the child’s age when deciding whether bring it up. A preschooler may not know about the event and probably doesn’t need to know about it. Answer questions if they ask.
- Be proactive with older children. You can start the conversation with “you may have heard about…” and ask what questions they may have.
- Help the child understand that it is OK to feel sad or angry that this had happened.
- Reassure and emphasize their safety. Discuss the steps that adults in their life take to keep them safe, such as their schools’ safety plan and safety measures taken at home.
- Help your child find ways to cope with their fear and grief. Providing outlets like artwork or imaginative play can help them process their feelings. Draw on ways your family typically copes with a crisis such as sending a card, making a donation as a family to help the victims or praying together.
If you or your child need additional help dealing with this tragedy, be sure to contact your doctor or mental health provider.
We hope these tips help you and your family in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.
Talking with children about the news. (Children’s Hospital)
Comforting children in a disaster. (Sesame Street)
Helping children in aftermath of a shooting. (American Psychological Association)
© 2014 Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt