It's unthinkable that when you send your child off to school you would ever receieve a call such as those parents in Newtown, CT did on December 14th. It's a parents worst nighmare. My heart aches for those families, as I know everyone's does. As a parent or one who works with children, you may face difficult questions. It is important that you address the topic with your child even if they don't bring it up - they most definitely have heard about it. The way children process emotions connected with tragedy is through questions, play, art, and talking through their own thoughts and feelings. By providing the platform for your children to discuss their thoughts, fears and feelings you can help prevent them from manifesting into anxiety or other challenging behaviors.
Here are some guidelines on talking to your child about the events that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School and any other tragedies:
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1. Use the "ACT" model to discuss the topic with your child:
A - Acknowledge the event and the feelings that your child may have around hearing of the shooting. By acknowledging it, you provide the opportunity for them to share their thoughts and feelings, some which may be extreme or incorrect. This provides you an opportunity toget a pulse on how it's impacting them.
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C - Convey a message of safety and protection. Children of all ages look to their parents for safety and security. Let them know that you and all those around them are always making their safety a number one priority. Also communicate honestly, that you don't understand why this happened and that it is hard to make sense of it. It's okay to express your sadness around the event, but don't let it create overprotection or increased anxiety for you. Your child picks up on your unspoken communication and will recognize and feel it if they notice you becoming highly anxious.
T - Talk to your children about the events in a developmentally age appropriate manner. Don't let younger children watch the news stories that go into great detail and provide too much information that is not necessary for them to hear and see. Rather then watch the news stories, keep the TV off and talk to them about the event. Ask them what questions or concerns they have. For older children use this as an opportunity to discuss their opinions around the topic. You can talk to your children about ways they may help support these families, ideas they have about what they can do to care for others they don't know but whose lives have been drastically affected by this. Helping them identify some way they can contribute can be a meaningful way to turn fear into compassion and caring.