We are deeply saddened and horrified by the shootings at Sandy Hooks Elementary. If you have school aged children, it’s likely that they have been exposed to some of the disturbing news of these past couple days. Here are some helpful hints and guidelines in opening a discussion with your children about this event and their fears surrounding it.
1. Talk to your children about their worries. Provide a validating environment where the child can express their concerns and feelings. Start the discussion by asking what they know about the event. Follow the child’s lead. Some want to talk about it, some will be quiet. Spend time together doing activities or playing. This provides a time for informal sharing but more importantly it increases feelings of security.
2- Talk to your child on their level. Give kids honest information they can understand. Ask for questions. For instance, ” A bad guy made a very bad choice and hurt people. The bad guy is dead and can not hurt anyone else.”
3- Reassure them that they are safe now. Comfort your child if they’re distressed. If your child starts having fears or nightmares, you can normalize this fear for them by giving a gentle hug and letting them know that the information is scary but they are safe with you no matter what and you will always protect them the best that you can. Avoid telling them nothing bad can ever happen. Giving them a false sense of security actually increases anxiety because it is a unrealistic view of what can be controlled.
4. Limit their exposure to media about the event. The continuous new’s clips and updates are reminders that something frightening can happen. Seeing descriptive images can be very traumatizing. Children’s perspectives of time and place are skewed, they may not be able to differentiate how close they are to what they are seeing. Children are often unable to determine that what they are seeing is a repeat of the same event. Inform them that the images on the TV are from far away and not happening now.
5- Try to not use scary words. Young children understand “hurt” but more descriptive words such as kill, murder, etc. are beyond their present understanding. Even older school age children who do understand the definition do not need to be told in explicit detail.
6- Teach children the skill of confronting their thoughts. Just because we think something doesn’t mean it is true. Anxiety feeds on negative thoughts so help them learn how to replace their scary thoughts with reaffirming statements. Teach distraction techniques: playing with toys, exercising, singing a favorite song, etc.
Above all else, children want to know that they are loved and will be protected. So turn off the TV and give them a hug and the reassurance that they are safe and you love them. This will be the best information of all.
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