school shooting tragedy: what will you tell your children?
Residents in Newtown, Connecticut, and the entire nation, are in shock after an armed gunman opened fire in an elementary school this morning, killing 20 children and seven adults—including himself. With so many questions left unanswered—some that may never be answered—the tragedy is a harsh reminder of how fragile life is. [Full story]
The disturbing news coming out of the quiet east coast woodsy town leaves many parents asking the same question: How do we talk to our kids? It you asked me a few months ago, I would have said "you don't," unless there's something you can actually teach your child about preventing or reporting any dangerous behavior. In my opinion, I thought, why would you scare them when there's nothing to teach them?
Blogger Jessica Gottlieb agrees, writing on her blog this morning. "Your four year old never needs to know about this. If your eight year old is your eldest child there’s no reason to talk to them either."
But when I turned to psychotherapist and child development expert Stacy Kaiser for her advice on talking to children after the Aurora, CO shooting back in July, Kaiser disagreed, saying that it's important to discuss the topic—before someone else does. "Your kids are going to hear about it elsewhere," Kaiser advised. "Even not at school, it will come up -- whether it's today or a month from now. It's best for the news to come from you."
Referring to Colorado at the time, but still applicable, Kaiser said there's a balance when sharing news with young kids and you shouldn't do it without including lots of reassurance. "You can talk to them, while at the same time, explaining that this isn't something that's going to happen to them. Let them know that in a city far away, a man did something that has never happened ever before."
But how do parents explain a scenario so random and incomprehensible? Kaiser says that's exactly how. "Kids need to understand that random things do happen. There are circumstances in life that we can't understand and can't explain. But easing their fears, letting them know this was far away and something that's a freak, random occurrence, while still preparing them for what they might hear later, that's the way to empower our kids to cope and feel secure as they experience scary situations throughout their lives."
But when it comes to the constant media reports, I don't know anyone who thinks it's healthy for kids to get their information there. In fact, Gottlieb turned off the TV back in 2001, when the images of 9/11 were too much for her and her two small children. "I got my information from news sites online and broadcasts after the kids went to bed. Not only was it the right decision for my kids, but it turned out to be the right decision for me." Gottlieb writes, "You don’t need breaking news outside of your own community. It’s okay to find out about things 4 or 5 or even 12 hours after they’ve happened. It’s okay to get news later in the day."
How will you discuss the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary with kids? Will you allow them access to media reports?