The lives of an untold number of children, teachers, staff, families and an entire community were forever changed on Friday, Dec. 14, The gunman, who police officials are declining to name after conflicting reports, killed 26 at the school, including 20 children, before turning his gun on himself.
In the ensuing hours, President Barack Obama held a press conference and told parents to hug their children a little tighter Friday night and said the nation needs to, “come together,” during the tragedy. He also said to not only think of those who lost their lives, but those who survived the horrific event, especially students at the school.
“Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors as well, as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know their children’s innocence has been torn away from them too early,” Obama said.
In the hours following the shootings, Oak Forest Patch posed a question to its Facebook fans:
How do you talk to your kids about acts of violence, what happened at Sandy Hook? Or do you not at all?
Below are some of the comments Patch's readers posted.
Bill Swinford said: “Be honest and let them know there are wacko's in the world...”
Amanda Gromala-Evans said: “I absolutely think you do. As a parent you need to make it age appropriate and let them know they are loved and that they feel secure.”
Kelly McDonald said: "Had to talk with my girls recently about 9/11. I just answered them honestly and told the truth but I usually wait till they bring it up. They're 6 and 8.”
Becky Kelly said: “my kids don't watch the news, and we don't watch it around them. If they bring it up, we will have no choice but to address it, but what they don't know is better! I don't want them scared to go to school everyday.”
If readers are going to talk to their children about the tragic events in Newtown, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network has some tips for how to talk with your child(ren). Here are some of the highlights:
Talk about the shooting with your child. Not talking about it can make the event even more threatening in your child’s mind. Silence suggests that what has occurred is too horrible even to speak about or that you do not know what has happened. With social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, text messages, newsbreaks on favorite radio and TV stations, and others), it is highly unlikely that children and teenagers have not heard about this. Chances are your child has heard about it, too.
Start by asking what your child/teen already has heard about the events from the media and from friends. Listen carefully; try to figure out what he or she knows or believes. As your child explains, listen for misinformation, misconceptions, and underlying fears or concerns. Understand that this information will change as more facts about the shooting are known.
Gently correct inaccurate information. If your child/teen has inaccurate information ormisconceptions, take time to provide the correct information in simple, clear, age-appropriate language.
Encourage your child to ask questions, and answer those questions directly. Your child/teenmay have some difficult questions about the incident. For example, she may ask if it is possible that it could happen at your local school; she is probably really asking whether it is “likely.” The concern about re-occurrence will be an issue for caregivers and children/teens alike. While it is important to discuss the likelihood of this risk, she is also asking if she is safe.
Do give any information you have on the help and support the victims and their families are receiving. Let her know that the person responsible is under arrest and cannot hurt anyone else. Like adults, children/teens are better able to cope with a difficult situation when they have the facts about it. Having question-and-answer talks gives your child ongoing support as he or she begins to cope with the range of emotions stirred up by this tragedy.
Limit media exposure. Limit your child’s exposure to media images and sounds of the shooting, and do not allow your very young children to see or hear any TV/radio shooting-related messages. Even if they appear to be engrossed in play, children often are aware of what you are watching on TV or listening to on the radio. What may not be upsetting to an adult may be very upsetting and confusing for a child. Limit your own exposure as well. Adults may become more distressed with nonstop exposure to media coverage of this shooting.
Be a positive role model. Consider sharing your feelings about the events with your child/teen, but at a level they can understand. You may express sadness and empathy for the victims and their families. You may share some worry, but it is important to also share ideas for coping with difficult situations like this tragedy. When you speak of the quick response by law enforcement and medical personnel to help the victims (and the heroic or generous efforts of ordinary citizens), you help your child/teen see that there can be good, even in the midst of such a horrific event.
Be patient. In times of stress, children/teens may have trouble with their behavior, concentration, and attention. While they may not openly ask for your guidance or support,they will want it. Adolescents who are seeking increased independence may have difficulty expressing their needs. Both children and teens will need a little extra patience, care, and love. (Be patient with yourself, too!)