My heartfelt condolences go out to the families and friends who lost loved ones in the horrific school shooting which took place on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The unthinkable has occurred and we as a nation are collectively walking around with very heavy hearts. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire community of Newtown, Conn.
It is my hope that this blog may help all parents speak with their children regarding this terrible event as I have been inundated with requests to address this issue.
1. It is very important to discuss this tragedy with your children. They will hear about it from their friends, the media, etc.; therefore it is imperative that you provide a comfortable safe place for them to speak to you about what they have heard and what they feel about what they heard. Share information regarding the tragedy by keeping in mind the benchmark that the younger the children are the less information and details they need to know. Carefully watch and observe their reactions. Be emotionally available to your children and perhaps more importantly than anything else, listen to what they tell you, or don't tell you. Children will react differently at different times to tragedy so be aware of changes in their behavior and mood over time.
2. Turn off the TV and avoid all the media coverage of this event as much as possible. Too much information may heighten their anxiety. If you choose to have your child watch some media coverage of the shooting, be certain you watch it with them. Ask them their thoughts and feelings on what they heard and saw -- and again, listen carefully to what they tell you.
3. Re-assure your children that this tragedy is a very rare and unusual tragedy and that is why the media is giving it so much attention and coverage. Re-assure them that they are safe and that it is incredibly unlikely that this will ever happen to them. It is vital you emphasize to children how rare this tragedy is to allay any spoken and/or unspoken fears.
4. Try to normalize your children's lives as much as possible. Children find security and comfort in routine and it is important for them to know that although this tragedy has occurred, their life will go on.
5. Finally, although it may be difficult, keep yourself together when you are discussing this tragedy with your children. You may share with them the fact that you are sad about this horrible event but you must not fall apart in front of them. Children are very sensitive to their parents emotions and will often gauge their own reactions based upon how they feel their parents are reacting to a situation. Children look to their parents for strength and comfort in times of adversity; therefore, as difficult as it may be, do not break down in grief in front of your children.
Spend as much time with your children as is possible In the days and weeks ahead. Keep the lines of communication open and be emotionally available to them.