The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School has left people all over the world with many questions and one that continues to be raised is "How do I talk to my child about this?"
The Town of North Branford has gathered a variety of resources that offer guidance for parents talking to their children following traumatic events.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers "Tips for Talking to Children and Youth After Traumatic Event" with the following tips (a full list and other information is available in the attached PDF):
- Do not be afraid to admit that you cannot answer all of their questions.
- Answer questions at a level the child can understand.
- Provide ongoing opportunities for children to talk. They probably will have more questions as time goes on.
- Use this as an opportunity to establish a family emergency plan. Feeling that there is something you can do may be very comforting to both children and adults.
- Allow children to discuss other fears and concerns about unrelated issues. This is a good opportunity to explore these issues also.
- Monitor children’s television watching. Some parents may wish to limit their child’s exposure to graphic or troubling scenes. To the extent possible, be present when your child is watching news coverage of the event. It is at these times that questions might arise.
- Help children understand that there are no bad emotions and that a wide range of reactions is normal. Encourage children to express their feelings to adults (including teachers and parents) who can help them understand their sometimes strong and troubling emotions.
- Be careful not to scapegoat or generalize about any particular cultural or ethnic group. Try not to focus on blame.
- In addition to the tragic things they see, help children identify good things, such as heroic actions, families who unite and share support, and the assistance offered by people throughout the community.
Fred Rogers, best known as Mr. Rogers, shares these tips and a video in a segment called "Helping Children with Scary News."
- When children mention something frightening, find out what they know about it. (Their fantasies are often very different from the actual truth!) Listening carefully and respecting their concerns can assure them that they can talk about anything with you.
- Somewhere deep inside each one of us human beings is a longing to know that all will be well. Our children need to hear from us adults that we will do everything we can to keep them safe and to help them grow in this world.
- When Fred Rogers was a boy and would see scary things on the news, his mother would say to him, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."
- You parents and care givers are of prime importance in your child's life -- what you do, think and say are powerful influences on the children in your care. By helping them find healthy ways of dealing with their feelings -- ways that don't hurt them or anyone else, you're helping to make our world a better, safer place.
The National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners echoes many of the tips above, including being honest and using age-appropriate answers. The full list is in the attached PDF. NAPNAP's 10th suggestion is "Hug your child." NAPNAP also offers these additional disaster resources.
United Way 2-1-1, Connecticut's statewide information and referral and crisis line, wants you to know that we are available 24 hours a day to connect families with the resources they need in the wake of this tragedy. If you or your child need assistance, dial 2-1-1, to reach call specialists trained in handling crisis situations. Here are the tips posted in an earlier article.
Connecticut Commission of Children
The Connecticut Commission of Children also has listed many resources, specifically gathered in the wake of the Newtown shooting because, as stated on its website:
As the scope of what happened in Newtown became clear, it also became clear that families throughout Connecticut would have to deal with unprecedented shock and horror over the crime. That's why the Commission has prepared this resource center. Here, you'll find expert advice and information that can help children and adults alike. The contents of this page are likely to change over the coming days and weeks, so check back periodically. If you have suggestions for additional resources, please send them along. News media inquiries should be directed to Communications Director Kevin Flood, at 860.805.0613 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Have you talked to your child? Do you have other tips to share?