What to Say About the Sandy Hook Tragedy Before School Tomorrow

I tried hard to shield my children, ages 4 and 7, from what happened in Connecticut, taking the advice of so many mental health professionals who advise telling young kids as little as possible about the events. But as I’m sure lots of you experienced yourselves, it’s nearly impossible, even if you kept the TV off all weekend, as we have. For our family, the radio interrupted 24/7 holiday music with condolences to the families of Newtown; going online offered a glimpse of CNN’s home page; and even a trip to the bagel store, where three piles of newspapers sat by the door, revealed too much. So like many parents, we’re having some tough conversations and doing the best we can.

What I’m concerned about now is what may come up at school tomorrow. My 2nd-grader’s teacher has notified us that she’ll say nothing of the events, though if it comes up she’ll discuss it as briefly and simply as possible, which I appreciate. I feel like I need to say a little more to my daughter before she returns to school, though, and I was glad when I got an email from a friend who works with the New Jersey nonprofit Good Grief, which helps children and teens cope with loss. She forwarded these words of guidance from Good Grief’s associate executive director, Joe Primo; perhaps you’ll find them useful, too.

Having a conversation about the shooting this weekend is probably a smart and important thing to do before school on Monday.  Classmates will have their own interpretation of the events; many of those narratives will have been learned this weekend from the media and the adults in their lives. There is not a lot we control about these events, but we can play a big role in how our children hear and come to understand the events. We can best support our children by having an honest dialogue that helps build coping skills and taps into their inherent resiliency. Below is a script you might try.

Adult: So, Alex, have you heard about the sad thing that happened to a school in Connecticut?
Don’t assume Alex doesn’t already know. She may have picked it up already.
Adult: Somebody hurt a lot of children with a gun. It’s very sad. Children died.
WAIT to see how the child responds.
Adult: I think a lot of your friends and teachers will be talking about it on Monday. I would like us to talk about it too.
Allow the conversation to happen and be spontaneous. Here are some things you should know about reactions:
  • No child ever responds the same
  • Children may have an increased sense of fear for their safety
  • Children may be afraid to return to school or name “scary kids” in their school
  • Child process information in fragments. They may take it in and then quickly move onto something else.
Adult: I wonder how these things happen.
Wait to see if the child has ideas of her own.
Adult: Assure the child that their school (name administrators and teachers) works hard to keep them safe. You can encourage them to listen to their teachers about safety protocol. Assure them of your love and allow them to explore their reactions.
Often times, being together and offering each other love are the most meaningful things we can tell our children.
For more on the Sandy Hook tragedy, visit the following on Parents.com:
Image via Good Grief.
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  1. by cheryl

    On December 16, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    And tell me what to say..when all else fails..and yur baby cries I dont want to go to school ever again..

  2. by Kara

    On December 17, 2012 at 10:51 am

    It’s so hard, Cheryl. My daughter hit me with some really painful questions last night too. I hope your child (and you) did OK today.

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