Last month the unthinkable happened. Again. The recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary has reignited the debate on gun control, school safety and mental health services. But one aspect of this tragedy that needs to be further examined is how we should talk to our children about events that we don’t comprehend ourselves.
How we discuss the recent events will primarily have to do with how we are reacting to the situation. Our kids will watch and learn from us. If we’re honest and open about how we feel and what’s going on, they’ll be more confident in expressing how they feel.
Here is some advice to keep in mind.
Tell the Truth
It’s important that your kids feel and know you’re telling them the truth. If they feel you’re holding back, they’ll find other ways to get the information or learn not to trust you. Be open and honest with them about the tragedy and don’t try to hide what happened. Be sensitive to each child’s developmental age and try not to over explain.
Telling the truth also means inviting your children to ask questions and express their emotions. Make sure they understand that feeling sad or anxious is normal. It could also make your kids feel better knowing that you also are feeling upset about what happened. Be as straightforward as possible when you answer any questions. And if you don’t know the answer, say that. Sometimes there are no answers.
Your kids may feel unsafe or scared. It’s our job as parents to make them feel as safe and protected as possible. The best way to make kids feel safe is by showing them that we love them unconditionally. It’s also important to convey the message that feeling scared sometimes is OK; however, it’s not a reason to stop living and enjoying life.
Knowing that millions of children go to school every day and don’t get hurt may help your kids feel more secure. Put the Sandy Hook tragedy in perspective and explain how rare tragedies like this occur.
The most important advice for parents to remember is to never dismiss their children’s fears. If they suddenly are scared to attend school, have bad nightmares or wet the bed, don’t disregard or poke fun at their emotions. Take time to discuss why they feel that way. This will not only validate their emotions but foster their self-esteem.
Focus on the Good
Avoid exposing your kids to media coverage of the tragedy. Instead, help your kids focus on the teachers, faculty and rescue workers who in the moments following the shooting put their lives on the lines to help protect the hundreds of other students and teachers in the building.
Encourage your kids to do good deeds as this will help them feel they are making a difference. Try starting a fundraiser for the victims at Sandy Hook or reach out to troubled kids in your community. If your family thinks change is needed at the state and federal level, reach out to legislators and community organizations. Start a petition if need be. If you’re able to get more than 25,000 signatures, your family can submit that petition directly to the White House at WhiteHouse.gov/petitions.
Continuing a sense of normalcy at school, meals and bedtime will help your children get back to normal. Keep an eye on how your kids are interacting with you and each other. Since children don’t have the ability to process feelings like adults do, your children may have a hard time digesting the situation. If after a few weeks you don’t see improvement or your child is still unsettled, contact a mental health professional who is trained to help children process their emotions.
Opening the lines of communication between you and your kids will help reassure them that no matter what happens, you will always love and protect them.