In the wake of the shootings at Newtown, Conn., I have been in a dilemma about how much to talk about this with my children. I have two children in the first and second grades so this has impacted me at a deep emotional level. However, I am not sure what, if anything, to say to my kids about this.
–A Frightened Parent
The highly publicized and “gut-wrenching” nature of the Newtown shooting has made it less of an option to say nothing to your children. They will hear about it from their friends or in school one way or the other. In fact, you might open up a discussion by asking what they have heard. As many have pointed out, while the Newtown shooting is particularly horrific, many children in our country and around the world experience gun violence and other forms of violence every day, so it is a topic that we can no longer avoid even for first and second graders.
While saying nothing is not the preferred option, saying too much is also not the best. Shielding children from constant media images or graphic details is important. Constant exposure to the news often leads young children to believe that the shooting is happening over and over again.
Simple, direct statements are best; statements that do not deny, deflect, or “spiritualize away” the fact that an upset person took the life of some young children in their school, causing a lot of pain to their families and community. Of course, children will immediately want to know about their own safety and need to be reassured of what is being done to keep them safe, while not making false promises that bad things will never happen in life. Discussing what is being done at school and what your particular family is doing and will do in a crisis to keep them safe actually gives a sense of control to children in a time like this.
Reminding children of God’s love is important, but in such a way that tells the truth that God’s love helps us to get through anything and does not always prevent us from experience painful things in life. It is all right to say you don’t understand all of what has happened, but that this family can face anything with one another and with God. Hold them close when you say this. Repeat nightly. Watch for any nightmares or somatic complaints (e.g., stomach aches at the thought of going to school) and if these symptoms persist after several weeks, consider talking to a counselor.
This is also a good time to review the family policies about violent video games, movies, TV shows, etc., and to review the family’s commitment to eliminate such from the home and community. Similarly, it is a good time for the family to look at how children are raised to treat others in school and in life, finding ways to befriend the awkward and different rather than ignoring or teasing them. Finally, it is a good time for the parents to seriously reflect upon their own behavior in family relationships. How are we connecting and overcoming distance? How do we deal with anger? Are any of our family members out of touch or disengaged? What does God want me to do about this and how will I need to grow?
— Tom Rodgerson