Sandy Hook shooting: How to talk to your kids about it

Newtown

NEWTOWN, CT - DECEMBER 16: Ty Diaz is kissed by his mother Yvette at a memorial down the street from the Sandy Hook School December 16, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty-six people were shot dead, including twenty children, after a gunman identified as Adam Lanza opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lanza also reportedly had committed suicide at the scene. A 28th person, believed to be Nancy Lanza, found dead in a house in town, was also believed to have been shot by Adam Lanza. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Talking to children about unthinkable tragedies like the Sandy Hook shootings can be hard. TheGrio.com asked two clinical experts to weigh in on how parents can best discuss tragic events like the Newtown school shootings to their kids. 

Dr. Jeff Gardere, psychologist and author:

After the shooting tragedy in Newtown, Ct. on Friday, even if your kids were not in that school, they will have many questions and concerns that you should address. Though your kids are not talking about it or seem oblivious, trust me they understand that children, just like them have been murdered.

They know that teachers and school administrators have been cut down, and that schools are not as safe as they once were. But most importantly they know this has been a horrific situation and it could happen to them. Their ideas and beliefs about schools being a safe haven have been forever destroyed in their minds. So you must talk to your kids about this school shooting tragedy. Here are some tips that may help.

  • Ask the kids what they are thinking about the tragedy. Find out what questions they may have and then meet them at their knowledge base.
  • Try to get your kids to speak more than you. You should be concerned as a parent to listen more than you talk.
  • It’s okay to  say to your kids that you don’t have all the answers. But be as reassuring as possible and figure out things together.
  • You can use “appropriate” images of the tragedy as a jumping off point for conversations.
  • For very young children, give those crayons and paper and just let them draw. Or give those dolls or actions figures and let them play. This is a healthy catharsis and will tell you what is on their mind.
  • Don’t make your discussion a one and done. It has to be a series of conversations while doing things they enjoy, cooking, playing ball, watching TV, etc.

Remember, how you handle this tragedy emotionally and behaviorally will be a great lesson and modeling for how your kids deal with the tragedy and other troubling situations in the future.

Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble, psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center:

This awful tragedy was devastating and heart wrenching for the families, friends and people around the world. Any senseless loss of life is difficult to witness, yet the loss of the life of a young child is particularly devastating.

It is during these times that many parents wonder how best to talk with their own children about such a horrible series of events, particularly given 24-hour news coverage which almost assuredly brings the details of this event into our homes, cars and electronic devices.

As a child and adolescent psychologist and a parent of elementary school-aged children, I too have struggled with how best to discuss these terrible events with my children.  Along these lines, I want to share my own tips as well as those endorsed by the American Psychological Association (APA) for parents to consider in broaching the topic of the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School with their children.