Parents might want to have a discussion with their children about violence following the tragic shooting in Newton, Conn. resulting in the death of 28 people, including 20 children.
Nory Benhana, a child and family development lecturer at San Diego State University, offered her expert advice on how parents can communicate with their children and cope with the horrifying incident.
- Put the tragedy in perspective.
“This type of things happens so rarely,” she said. “Parents could unintentionally plant a seed of fear for the child to cope with, but remember it's uncommon and it is very unlikely.”
Benhana said it is important to reinforce that school shootings are an unusual occurrence. She said children can often worry that a similar situation will happen to them, the chances of it are minuscule.
“It is so rare, in the last 20 years I have never heard of this situation like this before,”
- Gage children’s level of interest.
“Open the door of conversation, but don’t dwell on it,” Benhana said. “Kids pick up anxiety, sadness and other emotions that can be heavy for small children.”
She said some children could be very inquisitive, while others may not be very interested. Either way, parents should find out how they are feeling.
- Answer questions directly.
“Ask them what questions they might have and give them age-appropriate answers,” said Benhana. ““Ask the kids the kids what they want to know and what they want to talk about.”
When children are asking questions, parents often jump to the long answer when all children want to know is the direct answer. Keep it simple and encourage discussion, she said.
- Be sensitive to their age.
“We tend to take the rare events, replay them and desensitize ourselves to it,” Benhana said. “But kids can often ratchet them up.”
Since children are so different at each stage of development, she said it’s important to stay sensitive to what they can comprehend.
“It’s a bad and scary event,” she Benhana. “Talking too much about it may be more intense then they need to experience.”
- Do not impose fears on children.
The thought of a school shooting makes any parent cringe with fear, but it’s important to stay strong for your children, said Benhana.
“Parents need to process some of their anxiety and grief with other adults instead of processing it with their children,” she said. “If stress stays elevated for a long time it can cause more anxiety.”
She said some parents tend to worry after seeing dozens of upsetting children and want to react by keeping their kids nearby.
“Do not tell children that when they are unsafe when they are away from parents,” Benhana said. “School is statistically the safest place for children to be.”
For more information, Benhana said parents and teachers can visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network website, which offers additional tips for dealing with stressful situations.