We were all shocked by the mass shooting of innocent children and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut. While the police investigate the events and motives that led to this horrific crime, we parents are left to not only deal with our own emotions, but also to help our children make sense of this tragedy. Here is some of what I have been sharing with parents through the various media outlets…
What kids need to know:
The bottom line: I wish your children didn’t hear about this event, but, if they are going to, you have to be their ally in making sense of the news.
What parents should say:
That is the questions on everyone’s mind. Parents know best what their own child can handle. There is a range of sensitivities in children and only a parent knows their child well enough to know what they can handle. The rules you need to apply are as follows:
Here are some examples of variations on the essential message that show various levels of disclosure. Of course there are also nuances in between too.
Regardless of which “version” you think your child is capable of handling, be sure to also listen to what they are making of the events. Children can connect the dots in very interesting ways, like: “I was really mean to Jesse at recess yesterday; I guess that is why they shot him.” Imagine if your child thought such a thing and you didn’t know? We need to hear what they are thinking so we can correct such faulty ideas.
Lastly, we have to help our children retain their belief that people are good and life is safe. To do so, we need to explain how rare and freakish this event is. We need to instead shine a spotlight on all the hundreds and thousands of acts of heroism and kindness that our fellow community members have made. He was one shooter, but almost everyone has shown loving kindness, is reaching out, is helping families, and showing support. The teachers, doctors, police and more all did wonderful things!
This also provides a chance to ask our children, “What would you like to do?” By writing a card, drawing a picture, making a donation, sending a teddy bear, lighting a candle at home, or saying a prayer, we show our children how they can care for others too. This helps empower them so they don’t feel simply like passive victims of life events. It is part of the healing process. We all have to make meaning from the events — parents and children alike.
So, let’s count our blessings and hug our children tonight.
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