Yesterday our nation suffered an unspeakable tragedy. 20 of our youngest, most vulnerable students were killed by a gunman who shot his way into their locked school. It is a senseless tragedy that defies explanation. And the rest of us hugged our children tight last night, having been reminded that having the opportunity to do so makes us the luckiest people in the world.
Deciding how much to tell your children about this tragedy is the hurdle we all now face. Children often overhear exactly what we hope they won’t. If we think there is a chance that our children will overhear this information, or will be told parts of it from other children, then we need to make sure we open a line of conversation with our kids so that they know that can come to us as they hear information, or have questions.
Here are a few tips:
Tailor the amount of information you give to your child’s age, and provide enough to satisfy them without offering too many extra details. Try not to address fears that your child has not yet expressed.
Allow your child to express his thoughts and concerns about what happened in age appropriate ways: drawing, writing, making up stories are all great ways for elementary age kids to process scary events. Teens and tweens may be more able to talk to you, but may also process the events with their friends or thorough writing. Keep the lines of communication open. Children often go away to process things and come back as new thoughts or questions come to them.
Talk to your children about the ‘helpers’. Talk to your children about all the people who are there to keep them safe and help them when they need it: teachers, firemen, police, doctors, nurses, family and friends.
Turn off the news, limit social media access, and do something together. Repeated viewing of the news is re-traumatizing, especially for children who don’t have the same sense of time as adults.
This is a conversation no parent should have to have with their child, but, tragically, today we do. Here are some additional websites that you can look at for more suggestions on how to talk to your children about this terrible event.