Friday, December 14th, 2012
As we struggle to comprehend what happened on Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, we’re also trying to find the words to talk to our children as they ask questions. It’s a difficult topic to talk about as our children look to us for guidance. As parents, it’s our job to grieve for fellow parents and the young children whose lives were taken but at the same time, provide answers to our kids who are wondering if this could happen at their school.
When today’s events unfolded, I was immediately transported back to my first grade classroom and the discussion that I had with my students as a new teacher about Columbine. I remember my principal talking to us as staff about what to say and about addressing student questions as they came up. As expected, many of my students asked about the safety of our own school.
Having talked about tragedy with children before, I shared my parent and educator perspective with helpful tips on talking to your kids for parents who are looking for guidance on talking about these difficult topics. But knowing that conversations in houses across the nation will be different and suited to our kids and family values, where else can you turn as you’re trying to make sense of today?
I always turn to trusted resources who I can count on to provide helpful tips and age-appropriate talking points for my own children. Here are some helpful links that I found with sound advice for discussing the Sandy Hook tragedy with your children.
PBS Parents offers flexible suggestions about answering kids’ questions about current events. I like that the tips in Talking with Kids About News can be applied to news of any kind and not just about tragedy.
Explaining the News to Our Kids by Common Sense Media provides differentiated messaging for kids depending on their ages. There are tips for talking to those under 7, between 8-12, and teens which is especially useful for families who have kids of different ages and need to address everyone’s concerns in an age appropriate way.
The Mother Company offers expert advice on their site and Talking About Devastating News with Our Kids includes an interview with Pattie Fitzgerald, who advises bringing up difficult topics in context and “explaining that certain events are rare occurrences, or far from where you live” reassuring kids “that as parents you take thorough precautions to keep them safe.” There’s also a very helpful list of tips parents can use to navigate tough news topics.
Sesame Street’s Here for each other: Helping Families After an Emergency is a downloadable PDF that is a fantastic resource for parents of young children. It urges parents to model a sense of calm in front of children since kids take cues from parents and caregivers. There are also simple ways to stay positive after an emergency along with ways to address a child’s fears based on their age.
The American Psychological Association has a post about Helping Children Manage Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting. Wise words include “What you talk about and how you say it does depend on their age, but all children need to be able to know you are there listening to them.” APA also encourages parents to find times when kids are most likely to talk but to express your opinions while making a concerted effort to listen and not interrupt.
Sadness – a lonely child via Shutterstock