In light of Friday's school shooting in Connecticut, we asked a school counselor, Jefferson Elementary's Melissa Rather Brown, to give us some ideas for parents having difficulty talking to your children about tragedies. She compiled the following tips from various sources.
Limit media exposure. Adults often keep looking for answers and new developments in the media and may not realize how much their children are absorbing. For now, keep the TV and computer off. Remember that the computer home page that pops up often has the latest news and children often have exposure to this without adult supervision. Seeing repeat images and hearing the news over and again often makes children think it is happening again instead of a repeat of the same story.
Children will naturally feel insecure and even fearful. The buildings and people shown may look familiar and children may think this is a place or a face they recognize. Don't negate these feelings, but reassure them that these instances are SO RARE and that you and their school personnel do everything they can every day to keep them safe. Trying to rationalize statistics and probability with children will have little or no impact and not reassure them. It is not dishonest to say you don't imagine it will happen to them. It is so much more important to express your hope as a certainty in order to give children a feeling of stability and safety.
If children mention this tragedy or ask questions, ask them how they feel about it and answer the questions they ask. Let them talk, but don't force them to talk if they are not ready or don't have a grasp of the events. Be honest but measured; don't stir anxiety by bringing up feelings that children have not expressed having.
For older children, be present and available, but again, don't force them to talk if they are not ready. It is not indifference, but is more often their developmental level that does not create an immediate connection to something that is both geographically distant and not a part of their normal experiences. Try to reengage children in normal everyday activities as much as possible. Be available to answer questions as they come up, reassuring them that you and their schools are possibly even more aware and taking more steps to ensure their safety.
If a child at any age continues to express anxiety or fear over a period of time beyond the media flurry of horrific stories, please consider talking to your pediatrician about seeking additional help. Most children will move past the immediate insecurity and not dwell on it unless they are directly in the affected community. Watch for signs that might indicate your child needs additional time and help to deal with these tragic events. Above all, reassure your children that you are there to love them and take care of them.