By Rex Robinson
When Adam Lanza went on a shooting rampage, killing 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., December 14 the news traveled throughout the nation, and world, quickly. The incident impacted both adults and children.
In the end, a total of 28 were dead, including the shooter and his mother, whom he had shot in the family home prior to coming to the school, according to published reports.
When tragedies like this occur, parents are sometimes at a loss as to what to say to their own children.
Lisa Pisha, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a columnist for Family Time Magazine, offered five tips on how parents should talk to their children about the school shootings in Newtown.
1.) Don’t avoid talking with your kids about the tragedy. It’s likely they’ve heard bits and pieces at school, through social media, and have caught glimpses of news flashes on TV. Avoiding a conversation with them about this significant event can build levels of anxiety for both you and your children.
2.) Address what they know and have them lead the conversation with their questions. It’s important that children are allowed to speak openly and as often as necessary in times of stress and trauma. But, it can be difficult to balance what they know with what they should know. Keep your conversations with your children developmentally appropriate, fact-oriented whenever possible and leave the horrific details out of the picture.
3.) Talk to them about what makes their school, their playground – their world – safe. It’s important to emphasize on the how’s and why’s of safety to give both children and adults a sense of relief. Talk to your children about your job as a parent in helping to keep them safe as well. Children need to be able to count on us as adults; they look to us for answers even when it can be a struggle to find them.
4.) Keep your normal routine going as much as possible. Talk to your children about their school day, sports, Girl and Boy Scout events. Talk about their day-to-day activities and the exciting things they may have coming up.
5.) Finally, empathize with their worries, fears, and all of the emotions that can be present or not. Don’t dismiss their feelings of worry and concern by telling them “not to worry.” Instead, tell them how you understand their worry, and their fear. Some kids are more emotional than others, just like adults. Regardless of whether or not their emotion is presenting outwardly, it’s still there. Sometimes the best conversation starters can include self-disclosures from a grown-up.