Telling My Child About the Massacre of Children in Newtown

We decided kind-of last minute to tell our 6-year-old about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. Since the horrific news broke on Friday, my wife and I had been in agreement that we’d do our best to shield Adira from the news. But a few things came together Sunday night to change our minds: a message from the school assuring us that teachers would be available to discuss the tragedy with the kids; my friends’ Facebook; this extremely helpful post from my colleague, Kara Corridan about talking to kids about Sandy Hook; and the dawning realization that Adira is at the age where we simply cannot shield her anymore. She was bound to hear–from a friend with an older sibling, from a snippet of conversation or radio news she may overhear, from a teacher answering another child’s questions.

We decided it was better for her to hear the news from us, and so this morning, while rushing to get dressed and out the door, we told her, hewing closely to the suggested script in Kara’s post. I told her that a bad man went into a school in a place called Connecticut and hurt some children with a gun, and some children and some teachers died. I assured her that her school was safe and that her teachers, principal, and the security guard are making double sure of that.

Her immediate reaction bordered on the comical, and was certainly unexpected. “What do you want me to do about it?” she asked. “I’m not a doctor or anything like that.”

Kind of funny, kind of sad that she immediately got defensive. I felt bad, like I’d presented it all wrong.

But before we could really respond to that, she shifted gears and asked some of the questions we’d expected. She quickly honed in on the shooter, asking what happened to him. When I said that he, too, died, she asked if a teacher killed him or if the police did. That question made me realize she was processing this thoughtfully and ruminating on the details. I told her that the man killed himself with his gun, and reiterated that her school is safe and that she could ask any questions. She soon moved on to other conversations, but picked it up again on the walk to school, asking how many kids and teachers died, focusing on whether it was “most of the school.”

I am sure we will talk more about it later, and I assume there will be discussion at school. The principal said in his message that the school would only discuss the tragedy with younger grades in response to questions (while they would proactively lead discussion with the older kids). All in all, I felt like it was a good start and I was glad we decided to discuss it with Adira.

I am wondering: Did you talk about the Sandy Hook tragedy with your young children? How did the conversations go? More broadly, I am wondering how school drop-off went this morning and what your kids’ schools are doing to address the news with children of different ages?

For more information on how to talk to your kids about tragedy, visit the following on Parents.com:

Image: Mother and her son via Shutterstock

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  1. by Amy

    On December 17, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    We chose NOT to tell our 6 year old, first grader. In our opinion she is still of the age to be shielded and protected. Enough innocence was stolen and shattered I didn’t need to add another one to it. She sits in the front of her bus with other first graders and immediately behind kindergartners, and eats with all first graders. For us, if we were going to tell her we should have told her Friday afternoon when she came home so she had all weekend to process it and ask her questions and for us to reassure her. We didn’t feel it was right to tell her about this and then half hour later send her out the door to school. It would have put fear in her and put it in the forefront of her thoughts. IF she was going to hear anything from her peers, really how much could they have known or process? And what they were going to tell her was going to be less than what I would have. And I’m glad I didn’t tell her, she came off the bus she normally does and said nothing about what happened on Friday. So for now, her innocence is still there.

  2. by Alejandra

    On December 18, 2012 at 2:56 am

    Wow. You told your 6 year old about a school massacre five minutes before sending her to school. Why tell her? SHE’S SIX YEARS OLD! Why tell her RIGHT BEFORE SENDING HER TO SCHOOL? Didn’t think this through, did you? That’s parenting for ya! Kudos! You’re doing a freakin’ awesome job! NOT.

  3. by Masha

    On December 18, 2012 at 3:28 am

    And you Alejandra I’m sure have never done anything that would not classify as top class parenting. She clearly did think about it, all weekend. Sometimes timing is just wrong and there isn’t much you can do about it. But it best that the girl heard the news from her mom (who have thought about how the conversation should go and what questions can come up) then from some random person who wouldn’t know how to handle her response. Just cause you didn’t do the same doesn’t make this mother a bad one.
    I hadn’t had to deal with this issue yet as my little one is only 10 months old, but I’m sure it would be a hard decisions and maybe would take me all weekend to decide to tell a child such horrid news. Better that she took the time to learn about the situation, and how to discuss it with the child then telling them the first chance she got and possibly scaring her even more because she wasn’t prepared properly.

  4. by Masha

    On December 18, 2012 at 3:32 am

    Sorry I just now realized that the poster is a dad and not a mom. I change all the “she, her and mom” to “he, him and dad” but the rest stands true. My mistake.

  5. by Masha

    On December 18, 2012 at 3:34 am

    My mistake. I just realized that the poster is a dad not a mom. So I’m changing all “her, she and mom” to “his, he and dad.”

  6. by Jason

    On December 19, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    This question presumes that small children will be exposed to the media. People don’t actually have to accept this if they don’t want to.

  7. by littleduckies

    On December 20, 2012 at 6:02 am

    Alejandra, as you saw, the author’s child did very well with the way her parents handled it.

    This is a complicated issue, and one needs to take into account what the other kids are going to pick up on. Even more than that, each parent needs to know their child and what’s best for them.

    You did what was best for your child, and the author did what was best for his.

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