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Talking to Kids About the School Shootings

'While we may be feeling weepy or mesmerized by the TV coverage, we need to remember our kids are watching us,' advises a family therapist.

Many parents wonder what to tell their kids since news broke of the Newtown school shootings that killed 20 children in Connecticut.

This tragedy has stunned the nation, and kids naturally will come to their parents and teachers with questions. They may be picking up their own information through social media, their friends and TV.

Kids will want to know they are safe and make sense of what happened. They may turn to their parents and teachers for answers.

Lauren Hutchinson is a child and family therapist and parenting consultant. She says step one for parents 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.”  

For kids seven and younger Hutchinson says, “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.” We forget, says Hutchinson, that children, especially ages seven and younger, “hold tight to those kinds of negative images.”

For kids ages seven to 12, Hutchinson says, “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 says that parents should “read the child’s cues and let them bring up what he or she wants to talk about.”

She has two children herself and says that she will process the event differently with each because of their ages. “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."

Hutchinson says 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.” 

One of the most helpful things parents can do for their children, now and in the weeks ahead says Hutchinson is “take action.”

“They need a meaningful way to express their emotions and process what happened.” For her own children, her family will be lighting a candle and saying a prayer for the victims and their families.  

“Rituals are important, especially during times like these, for comfort and healing.”

Harvey A. Smith December 16, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Let's see now. What do we talk to our kids about in an attempt to discuss the shootings? Strict gun control? It doesn't work in Mexico or California - both with very tough gun control laws in place. California has more shootings than any other state. Mexico is a no-brainer. Do we talk about the dangerous and crazy people out there and scare the living daylights out of our kids so they're afraid to go to school...or anywhere outside the home. Or do we talk about the responsibility they must have in keeping their eyes open for strange or aberrant behavior among their classmates and other kids with whom they come into contact. Then we make sure our teachers and school staff pay attention to these kids when they express concern and don't just blow them off! Human behavior is all about self-control, common decency and responsibility for our own behavior as well as (nowadays) the behavior of others. Let's watch and listen for the warning signals and teach our kids to do the same.

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