How to Talk to Your Child About the Connecticut School Shooting
Let me start out by saying, that I feel a deep sense of sadness when I think about the children, the parents, and the teachers/staff that had to endure the terrible events of the school shooting in Connecticut. My heart and my prayers go out to each of them as they process and remember Friday’s events. The tragedy of the school shooting in Connecticut is horrifying for everyone, but it is especially scary for children. First and foremost, please keep your children away from the news because the sensationalism of the event can be overwhelming to children and can make them very anxious.
Instead, learn as much as you can about the shooting and have appropriate discussions about the event with your child. Tailor your conversation to their age and please spare them the terrible details of the event. Before you have the conversation, you must process your own feelings about the shooting and take a deep breath. It will be helpful to gain control of your own anxiety, fear, and sadness so that it is not passed on to your child. Children do not have the same ability to manage those grown up feelings.
Avoiding this conversation with your child is unadvisable because children are talking to each other about this incident already. In fact, I heard about the shooting from my own children before I heard about it on the news. It is important that your children talk with you about the event, so that you can reassure your child that they are safe. Remind them that you and their teachers are learning from this experience and will make the changes necessary to ensure the safety of all children at their school. You can say this with assurance because many teachers that I know have informed me of the trainings that they will be attending on Monday to address school safety and appropriate conversations to have with their students.
If you present yourself as confident and comfortable discussing the shooting, your child will feel safe and will trust the information coming from you. Allow your child to express their emotions and try to contain your own anxiety as they express theirs. Avoid shutting them down by dismissing their feelings. Instead, let them know that you hear them, you understand their fears, and you will keep them safe. This would be a good time to hug and encourage your child. Show warmth, affection, make good eye contact, and look engaging in your conversation. These simple things will help your child to be resilient and you will find them reflecting your own confidence.
Find out what your child already knows about the shooting. You can ask, “Have you heard anything on the news in the last few days?” It is important to determine if your child’s fears are magnified by incorrect information. Younger children do not need details about the shooting. Saying something as simple as, “Yes, something scary did happen to children at a school, but you are safe and it is my job to keep you safe,” may curb some of their fears. Tweens and teens may need more details to help them process. Show them that you are not afraid to talk to them about scary topics. Your child may disclose their fear of dying and ask questions about death and what happens after it. Be open to deeper topics and don’t be afraid to admit, “I don’t know.”
Lastly, have an open discussion about your own concerns and worries with the leadership and teachers at your child’s school. Remember, most people who pursue the field of teaching have done so because they care about children. They also care about your child and will do what they can to keep your child safe. All you have to do is research the shooting and read the stories of the heroes at the school in Connecticut to be assured that school staff members care about children. Work with the school staff instead of against them. They are not the enemy. In fact, they may be the shield that keeps your child safe.
Laurie L. Taylor, Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Intern IMF57272
Employed by Chico Creek Counseling
Supervised by Joe R. Taylor, MA, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist MFC46406