As a former class teacher for more than 20 years I was grief stricken by the traumatic shooting in Newtown as that would have been the same as killing the whole of my class of 20 Year One 6 year olds – which just made me cry in grief as I watched the news over the weekend.
I have been asked to comment about this tragic event by a number of journalists and of course there is absolutely no sense to this tragedy but we do need to be ready for questions as parents and as teachers.
So what do we say to our children about this senseless shooting to reassure, explain and help children through this very frightening event?
Limit your child’s media exposure: Turn off the news. In this age of 24/7 News reporting it’s very easy for your child to get a distorted view of reality and how very unusual this case is. I remember when Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, two 10-year-old girls, were murdered in the village of Soham, Cambridgeshire on 4 August 2002 as we were on holiday in Spain. My kids were around the same age of 10 and 8 years old and every time we turned on the news the story was there, so it became very distressing for my children so my husband & I chose to only watch the news when they were in bed.
So turn off the TV and limit your child’s exposure to the media frenzy. Conversations and information about this tragedy should come from you, not the TV. You know your children better than anyone else and you know their maturity and sensitivity so limit their exposure to the tragedy and give them age appropriate details. Information on the news is for you and is not suitable or always age-appropriate for your child.
Reassure your child about their safety: Really reassure and explain to your children that their school is a safe place as in the UK people don’t have access to guns. Help them to understand that these incidents are thankfully very rare and your children and their friends are not at risk because this has happened in America.
Remain calm and confident in your explanations: While it is completely natural to be upset and angry about the shooting, it’s important that you don’t overwhelm your children with your emotions. They need to know that you are calm, reassuring and truthful if they have questions that need answering – listen to their worries and answer their questions age appropriately and don’t dismiss their worries as being “silly.” Take some time to just sit down with them and have a conversation and allow them to express their fears, perhaps you could simply ask them “What would help you to feel safer and more relaxed? Sometimes it’s just the fact that you are willing to talk and listen to them that will help them feel more secure.
Don’t ignore, dismiss or avoid the topic : If your children are asking about the shooting or watching the funerals on the news, or seeing headlines in the papers at the supermarket , talk to them in an age-appropriate way. You don’t need to go into huge amounts of details and if you don’t know an answer, just say you don’t know! As it’s all about being honest and truthful and being reassuring and about making sure they hear the answers from you – not another child or the TV – YOU need to be the source.
Give them a cuddle and a hug: A smile and a hug of reassurance works like magic and of course tell them just how much you love them.
Here are just some of the questions your child might ask you:
- Am I safe?
- Could this happen here?
- Could this happen to me?
- What if someone came to our school?
- What if you or my teachers can’t protect me?
- Why do things like this happen?
- Am I going to be okay?
- Are we going to be okay?
Just remember to reassure and calm their fears and show them that while the world can be a scary place it can also be full of joy, laughter and beautiful place and that this terrible tragedy needs to be respected but also needs to be put in perspective so your child doesn’t become over anxious about the world.
Here are 5 tips on talking to kids about scary news from CNN