Another school shooting horror and our children and grandchildren are looking up at us for answers. For so much of this, there are none. But, luckily, mercifully, for some of even the hardest questions, we have thoughtful incredibly helpful responses. Why? Because experts who work with children and families and study the impact of violence spend lots of time thinking and writing about the best advice for parents, grandparents, guardians and all adults in our kids' lives.
I am privileged to be part of a writing community of such experts at Psychology Today magazine, where a collection of some of the smartest and most thoughtful experts gather to share their best ideas. Since I am no expert in this topic, but I am a mother and teacher, I thought I'd share with you some of the excellent advice my colleagues are offering to us all for how we can best comfort, advise, reassure, educate and talk with our nation's children.
Psychology Today gathered the collective advice and wisdom from their hundreds of experts here: Making Sense of Senseless Killing
I selected posts that speak directly to those of us who are parents, grandparents, teachers, guardians and mentors of children of all ages. I offer this advice as a guide for all of us on how to talk to our children about the school shooting in Connecticut, and about violence in schools and safety in general.
Eugene Beresin, M.D. is Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and someone whose work I admire greatly. Here he offers a clear, practical guide for parents on how to help their children through this national trauma.
"Yesterday a horrible school shooting killed 20 young children in an elementary school in Newtown Connecticut. Many of the surviving children will have witnessed bloodshed at the site, and others around the nation may see images and videos of it on television. Naturally in the wake of such a tragic situation parents are struggling with the urgent issue of how to help their children and families.
Children of all ages will ask the primary questions:
- Am I safe?
- Are you, the people who take care of me, safe?
- How will these events affect my daily life?
- Why did this happen and is it going to happen again?"
Read more: Coping With the Recent School Shooting
2. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist whose work focuses on parenting and children's social and emotional development. Here are two posts she wrote that offer great advice and insight.
"Because I'm a mom, I thought about how I'd talk to my children about this tragedy. Because I'm a therapist, I also thought about how this event would affect some of my most anxious clients, particularly one little girl whose awareness of world events far exceeds that of her agemates. Here are some things you may want to keep in mind when talking to your child about the Connecticut shooting…" Read more: Talking With Children About the Connecticut School Shooting: Tips for talking to kids about scary news
How to reassure your frightened child without offering false promises of safety.
"The world is not a safe place. Just listen to the news: Shootings, drownings, accidents, disease, natural disasters… The list of possible tragedies is endless. And yet, as parents, one of our core responsibilities it to launch our children. It's our job to encourage our kids to explore and experience the world. But how can we do this when we can't honestly guarantee their safety? How should we respond when our children are frightened by the very real dangers in the world?
We need to help our children develop effective coping strategies, but we also need to help them understand that they are not alone in their journey. When tragedy strikes, whether it's personal or related to a news event, children may feel very frightened. Here's one way you can reassure your child without offering false promises." Read more: Helping Children Feel Safe in an Unsafe World
4. Fredric Neuman, M.D. writes a blog called Fighting Fear. He is the Director of the Anxiety and Phobia Center at White Plains Hospital. Here he offers a thoughtful, incredibly practical "description of some of the pitfalls of dealing with the aftermath of traumatizing events. Particular suggestions for helping the survivors of the tragedy at Newton, Conn." Read more: Protecting Children From Psychological Trauma
5. Talking to Children About the School Shooting: How to respond to a child's questions when there really are no answers.
Susan Stiffelman is a family therapist and the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected.
"What can you say when there are no words? We are all reeling today in the aftermath of the school shootings in Connecticut. I, for one, feel leveled and heartbroken; it is impossible to imagine the impact on the families who lost children, those whose children were spared but so profoundly traumatized and the rest of us who bear witness from afar to the unthinkable.
Here, in the interest of offering at least a few words that might help parents speak with their children about this event, are some thoughts.
- Limit your child's exposure to news coverage.
- Be brief.
- Focus on what your child needs most: Reassurance."
"What must little kids think when they practice lock-down drills and have their bags searched at school for possible weapons? How do kids psychologically cope with the news of threats to their safety stemming from other children, natural disasters, and terrorism? And are we creating a generation of kids who will worry about their own safety constantly?
I could not imagine the grief of those parents who lost a child, the children who lost a sibling, and the adolescents who lost a friend. I wondered if school would ever feel safe to the kids who lived through this and whether they would return to the point where their biggest worries were about acne and prom.
The fact is that children and adolescents are amazingly resilient. They can survive unspeakable traumas and find a way to recover."
Read more: Navigating the Tough Topics