This tragedy is so horrible I almost can’t bear it. My heart hurts, and I know yours does, too. And yet, we still have to keep going, because we are our children’s first protector, explainer and comforter. So take a deep breath, send some love to those families, yourself and your kids, and then you can begin to help your child understand.
However, that being said– if you can avoid the conversation, that’s probably your best bet. Young children can’t cognitively or emotionally process this event (it’s challenging for adults, too) so if they don’t already know, perhaps you can protect them from this news. I certainly, strongly recommend turning off the TV tonight. News programs don’t present information in a way that is appropriate for children. If your child already knows what happened, or has some inkling of what happened, you may need to help them understand, process, or put it in to context.
Remember that the most important thing you can do for your kids is to be and stay open to their communication. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you need to give your child a particular piece of information, or say a particular phrase. Parenting is never accomplished in one moment. Parenting is all about repeated experiences/events/conversations. Remember–it’s all about the RELATIONSHIP, and you want to have the kind of relationship where your children know that they can come to you to talk about difficult, awkward, or emotional topics. So: make this a “talkable moment,” be honest, calm, serious, supportive, loving, and listenlistenlisten.
As far as specific language, you might say something like:
- A man killed children and teachers today in Connecticut.
- He shot them with a gun in their school.
- He also killed himself.
- We don’t know why he did it.
- He might have been mentally ill, which is when your brain doesn’t work properly.
If your child has questions or unspoken fears about his or her own safety at school, it might be helpful to share information about that.
- Your school does things to keep you and your classmates safe. Your school has (locked doors, a buzzer system, metal detectors, etc… whatever is true.)
- Although the idea of someone shooting at school is very scary, it is actually very rare. It seems scary right now because it just happened and because people are talking about it. Your scared feelings will get smaller and smaller as time passes.
And for children who are having a hard time moving past their big feelings about this, you might remind them that there are things we can all do to help manage big feelings, for example:
- Put our attention on parts of our lives that we have happy or secure feelings about—for example make a list of 10 things in our life that we love, 10 things that happened this week that were funny, or 10 people who care about us and help us.
- Older children might be able to look backwards at something that they felt frightened of in the past and be able to compare how their feelings have since changed. This can help them to imagine how today’s feelings might get better with time, too.
- Write a note/draw a picture expressing condolences to be sent to the school or the first responders in the situation.
And then, for yourself, consider limiting your own exposure to this tragedy. Check in tomorrow if you need to, but spend tonight away from a screen, and with your own precious family.