Tragedy In Connecticut: How To Talk To Your Kids


sad daughter leaning on mother's shoulder
Reverend Christopher Smith offers advice about what to tell your children.

This morning, news came out about another tragic, mass shooting — this time in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut

On one level, this is just one more tragedy in a series of tragedies that have occurred in our country. On another level, the victims here were considerably younger. Additionally, this particular Connecticut community was also severely affected by Superstorm Sandy. However, the impact of a tragedy this large ripples across the country and beyond.


As a parent, whether you live near the incident or far away, you naturally think about your own child(ren). What will you say to them? What will you do? Here are seven suggestions:

1. Pay attention. The first thing to realize is that children, like adults, will become anxious about this event. The difference is that their anxiety may be expressed differently. So, while it's natural to want them to feel a sense of peace, the first thing for you to do is to not say anything, but simply pay attention to your children and watch for changes in their behavior. Being anxious in the short term is a normal reaction. However, if it becomes prolonged, consider speaking to their pediatrician. If their reaction is more severe, seek the help of a mental health professional.

2. Limit exposure. The second thing to consider is the effect of the constant replaying of the incident. For two to three hours, all I heard on the radio on my drive home today was a retelling of the story with the occasional addition of new details. For some children, this constant retelling of the story can feel like a story that is still going on. There are also details of an event like this that are fuzzy for a while. This is the nature of limited knowledge when faced with a disaster. For example, while the authorities were saying that the public was safe, they were also talking about looking for a second person of interest. These messages can add to a child's feeling of not being safe. So, limit your own and your child’s exposure to the replaying of the incident on the news.

3. Promise safety. The third thing is to assure your children of their safety. Reassure your child(ren) that they are safe and that while there was a tragedy, such a tragedy is a very rare event. Help them to normalize their own situation as you help them try to lead as normal of a routine as possible. Keep reading.

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The Rev. Christopher L. Smith

Marriage and Family Therapist

The Rev. Christopher L. Smith, LCAC, LMHC, LMFT has served as a national leader around mental health issues both within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and in professional counseling organizations.  He works directly with individuals, couples, families and supervisees as the Clinical Director of Seeking Shalom in New York City.  He also brings his insight to help a wider audience through writing, speaking and consultations.

Location: New York, NY
Credentials: LAC, LMFT, LMHC, MDiv
Specialties: Couples/Marital Issues, Forgiveness, Spiritual
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