Images and stories related to the horrific school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut will dominate the nation’s headlines for days to come. Talking to children about tragedies – especially those in which other children have been victimized – can be difficult. Family & Children’s Services offers the following tips to help parents talk to their children about the incident:

 

Children don’t always react the same as adults do to death and tragedy. Typical behavior for kids may include confusion, anger/irritability, nightmares or insomnia, loss of appetite, headaches and stomach aches, regressive behavior (thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, renewed sibling rivalry, demonstrating less responsibility) and difficulty in school.

 

Don’t try to keep kids in the dark or shield them from all news of the tragedy. Chances are that your kids are going to hear about what’s happened from their friends, via media or from another source. Hiding information isn’t the answer. It’s important to be open and honest, but the approach you take should vary based on your child’s age and understanding.

 

For preschoolers and very young children:

  • Reassure them that they are safe now.
  • Give extra hugs and physical comfort.
  • Stick to routines as much as possible. Routines are comforting and give a sense of order.
  • Monitor what they watch and hear, as some news reports might plant scary images in their heads.
  • Answer questions directly and in very clear terms. (For example, “passed on” can be confusing… or if you’re dealing with the death of a family pet, “put to sleep,” isn’t clear enough for most young kids.)
  • Don’t be surprised if a child in this age group shows you he’s angry or frightened by showing regressive behavior or by acting things out during her play, or by drawing certain images. 

 

For grammar school-aged children:

  • Don’t provide false reassurance/sugar-coat things. This is an age when children will question you.
  • Monitor what they watch and hear, as some news reports might plant scary images in their heads.
  • They’ll be able to pick up on your emotions, so admit it if you’re feeling sad or angry – but also reassure them that your job is to take care of them.
  • Stick to routines as much as possible.

 

For teenagers:

  • Monitor what information they get from the news and the Internet, and use those reports as springboards for conversation.
  • Realize that while teens may try to play down their worries or “act cool,” that doesn’t mean they’re unfeeling or oblivious.
  • Be honest about any financial, physical or emotional impacts the situation has had on your family directly.

 

Related Links:

Questions about mental health surface in shooting’s wake.

Restoring a sense of safety.

Talking to children about death and memorial services.

Newtown tragedy has communities exploring own resources.