Above all, I encourage parents to remember that they likely know their children best and that the following tips are merely guides to support parents in having what may be very difficult conversations.
- Limit the amount of news media coverage you allow your child to see or hear. It has been said that young children may not have the capacity to discern timelines and recognize that the events occurred in the past and instead may believe that the events are happening in real time.
- Consider your child’s age and developmental maturity when deciding what to share with your children. Try to find language that you believe your child will understand to help them have a context for sharing their worries, fears and concerns.
- Reassure your child of safety in your own home and with you as a parent. It may be helpful for you to remind your child of the types of strategies your family has in place in case of emergencies. For example, you might remind your child of why you lock your doors at home and in your vehicle when you are in them to demonstrate to them that you are aware of their need for safety and to reassure them that you as the parent are concerned about their well being.
- Ask your child to talk with you about what they know of the event and allow them space to express their feelings in an appropriate manner. In allowing them space to discuss what they know, not only will you gain an idea of which knowledge gaps you may need to fill, but you will reinforce the importance of expressing feelings. This is important for helping children develop awareness of their emotions and responses to scary and uncomfortable events.
- Be aware of significant changes in your child’s behavior and take action if you believe that the behaviors are seriously out of character for your child. Seek professional help if you must, as it is important to address these types of issues when they are in their early stages so that your child does not suffer needlessly.
- Be patient with yourself and your child. It may take a few days for your child to return to “equilibrium” emotionally and behaviorally. Given our children’s exposure to many people outside their families during the school day, it is possible that news surrounding the tragic event will be discussed. As a parent, it is important for you to remain calm and centered so that each time your child approaches you with a new question or concern related to the tragedy, you will have the capacity to be present with them and respond appropriately.
- Whatever your faith, you may find it helpful to rely on that faith’s teachings to help ease your child’s concerns about what happens to people when they die. If faith is a part of your household, you may also find it helpful for “de-stressing” with your child in a manner congruent with your family values.
Remember, these types of horrible tragedies impact us all in some way and it is important for us to take care of our loved ones and ourselves as best we can. You can refer to the American Psychological Association’s tips for helping your children manage distress in the aftermath of a shooting. I hope that you find this information helpful and know that you will join me in sending my thoughts and prayers to the victims and families of Newtown, CT.