December 17, 2012 | 1 Comment
By now everyone has heard about the tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn., last Friday, which took the lives of 20 6- and 7-year-olds and six school staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As I sat looking at the names last night, I was consumed with sadness and overwhelmed by my tears.
Not long after, I received a text from my mom, “Have you talked to the kids about the shooting?” And I realized, I really hadn’t. Our weekend had been consumed with basketball, ice cream fundraisers and a sick kid, and except for my 13-year-old son Max mentioning it once, I really hadn’t sat down and gauged my kids reactions to this tragedy. In fact, I realized, I had no idea if my 11-year-old even knew about the shootings. This morning, knowing that it very well could be talked about in school today, I took advantage of the two-hour delay to talk to Shea.
My previous training as a psychotherapists lead me to ask him what he had heard, and then deliver the (age-appropriate) facts to him: There was a school shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut where 26 people were killed, 20 of whom were 6- and 7-year-olds. Before I could tell him that the shooter was no longer a threat and that he was safe, his big brown eyes welled with tears. My heart broke. How had I forgotten that this third child of mine was the most sensitive of my three? Shea’s heart is always wide open, and he feels things more deeply than his two siblings.
He crossed the room and snuggled up next to me on the couch, filled with questions. “Are there people like that in Massachusetts?” “What if something happens like that at Craneville (his school) or Nessacus (his brother and sister’s)? He shook as he asked these questions, the tears still streaming down his cheeks, and suddenly all my psychotherapy training left me. I was at a loss for words, and all I could think about was how could I comfort my child and try to make sense of this for him, when I was struggling to make sense of it myself?
So what did I do? I hugged him. Told him he was safe and sent him upstairs to take a warm shower — and then I scoured the Internet for suggestions and reached out to my former colleagues, the Berkshire County School Adjustment Counselors Association, for help.
I am waiting to hear from the SACs and will post their suggestions when I get them. I also found these suggestions for talking to kids on the Fairfield Patch:
- Give the facts: Something bad has happened to some ids in school near us. And kids got hurt.
- Everyone is very upset and sad, including us. People are talking about this on TV and everywhere (schools, restaurants, stores, places of worship, etc.) You might hear adults or other kids saying stuff about it.
- But, even if you hear people talking about it, it’s over now. They caught the bad guy and can’t hurt anyone anymore.
- Clarify: This was not your school. Your school is safe. You don’t know anyone there. If you do know families from the Newtown school, you should talk with your kids about who was there, if they are safe, and what happened.
- Reassure: The President of the United States, the police, and all the adults in your life are doing everything they can to keep you and your school safe so that nothing like this can ever happen again.
- Many kids in Newtown were safe because of heroic teachers and police.
- Talk about what to do in an emergency, like a fire drill. Emphasize that it is important for kids to listen to teachers and police in emergencies.
- Suggest things kids can do to help: make cards for affected families, write letter to president about keeping schools safe, etc.
- Let kids ask questions, and answer honestly and simply. Don’t lie!! Don’t give more information or details than necessary. Keep it age appropriate and in line with what your kids can understand.
- Tell kids that you love them and will always protect them. Encourage them to talk with you about this and tell you what they hear. Keep the lines of communication open.
- Get on with the day, keep things normal. Spend time together. Be understanding and supportive if children are more clingy, emotional, or difficult in the short term.
- Be a role model: show kids how to be brave and stay strong.
I plan on using these suggestions throughout the week as I know my conversation with Shea is not over. He’s a thinker, and he’s going to be thinking about this for a while, and knowing him, he’ll probably think of something he can do for the families in Newtown affected by the tragedies. Kids are resilient and I know eventually things will return to normal for Shea and the rest of us here in Berkshire County. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for the families whose loved ones were lost in the Nov. 14 shooting. Our hearts are with them as they try to cope, and as we say a prayer for each of the 26 who died at Sandy Hook.
Suggested resources for parents and school personnel about talking to kids about the Newtown shootings:
AND FOR ALL YOU BLOGGERS OUT THERE WHO ARE TALKING ABOUT THIS: Responsible Media Coverage of Crisis Events Impacting Youth and Children