As we sit watching news reports on the television, listening to radio coverage, and discussing of today’s Connecticut school shooting with friends over social networks, it’s hard to make sense of what happened. There are so many whys that we just don’t know the answers to right now and may not know the answers to for a long time.
For those of us with school age children, chances are your kids were busy learning in school when the events unfolded. Their teachers learned of the news through hallway whispers from colleagues. Perhaps tears were shed as they realized this could have been their school before returning to their classroom and maintaining professionalism through the day’s lessons until the bell rang. Chances are your children won’t know of what has happened until after they get out of school.
I speak from experience. I was teaching first grade when Columbine happened thousands of miles away. It rocked my world as a new teacher to think that something like this could happen in our learning institutions. When I found out about what happened in Columbine it brought tears to my eyes but there was a classroom full of 6 and 7 year olds who I needed to keep teaching. I put on my professional face and went back in to the day’s lessons and then in the days that followed, I addressed their concerns as they came up.
As parents, it’s our job to take some time to think about how and when you will talk about this with your children. I know it’s easy to want to stick your head in the sand and want to avoid all conversation about this difficult topic. As hard as it is to discuss, chances are that you’d prefer to have a family discussion about what happened in order for them to get the facts and address their concerns immediately. By opening lines of communication, you’re encouraging your children to come to you with their questions, rather than succumb to fear because of rumors from outside sources.
Be prepared for the fact that over the course of the weekend, your children could catch a news soundbite on the radio, overhear another parent’s conversation, learn of it through an evening news report, or see an image or headline in tomorrow’s paper. Be prepared to keep your emotions in check (easier said than done, right?) to address your child’s concerns honestly regardless of how hard it may be.
Here are some questions that might come up in your home and ways that I will address them- from the perspective of a parent and educator- with my family when we discuss what happened.
Could this happen at our school? Am I safe at school? Be honest. Today we realized the horror that this could have been our child’s school but don’t convey that to them. It will only instill fear. Instead, reassure them. Talk to them about your school’s security measures and how it’s the job of their teachers and principals to keep them safe. If your school has lockdown procedures that are practiced regularly like ours does, reiterate how those are designed to keep them safe too. Talk about the procedures so they feel confident that they know what to do and reassure yourself at the same time.
Why did this happen? Different age children require age appropriate responses and you know your child best to know how to respond to them. Early elementary age children and younger don’t need to know the specifics about why. Talking about some crazy going into a school with a gun will only make them more fearful and anxious.
For gun related questions and concerns. Talk about your family’s policy about guns. If you have them in your home, reiterate safety first. If you don’t believe in them, talk about why you choose to not have them in your home without going into the politics surrounding gun control. Young kids don’t necessarily need to know about gun control laws. Older kids can understand rules and regulations around gun control but again, determine what’s best for your family.
If they ask what they can do to help, ask what they think they should do. Have them make a card. Writing and drawing is cathartic and a way that kids can express their feelings. You can send it or you don’t have to. Here is the address of the Newtown Public School District who can decide how to handle correspondence to those at the school:
Sandy Hook Elementary School
Newtown Public School District
Newtown, CT 06470
I know that we all want to talk about this but please censor yourself for the benefit of your children and their peers. Keep your discussions to a minimum around your children at dismissal, weekend birthday parties, and other events. Young ears don’t necessarily need to overhear what happened if they don’t already know, sense your fear, or learn of this before their parents are ready to talk to them about it. Nor do young eyes need to see the photos that may come up on our computers as we wait for more news, hear soundbites of news between their favorite songs on the radio, or read conversations among friends on Facebook walls with links to news reports. Every family will handle talking about this with their children in a different way. Some parents may just not be ready for the hard questions from their kids just yet so please be sensitive.
Finally, please know that I am not trying to capitalize on the tragedy of today’s events by writing this post. My eyes are filled with tears and my hands are shaking as I type. I am as horrified as you are but as a teacher who had to talk to her first graders about Columbine (and endured days of questions) and lived through a lockdown in our school system when we had a two shooters on the loose for 3 weeks during the Beltway Sniper Attacks, I feel that my perspective as a parent and educator might be helpful to those wondering how to talk to their kids about what happened in Connecticut.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to dry my eyes, turn off the news, and pull myself together before picking up my own two children from school and giving them hugs that last longer than usual.
Wishing you love on this very difficult day.
- (12/14- 11 pm EST): My new post on Parents.com (5 Helpful Resources for Talking to Kids About Tragedies) on Parents.com shares 5 fabulous resources if you’re seeing for additional guidance on talking to your children about Sandy Hook including links to pieces by Sesame Street Workshop, The American Psychological Association, PBS Parents, Common Sense Media, and The Mother Company.
- (12/14- 5 pm EST): iVillage has a heartfelt piece written by a mother whose son is a student at Sandy Hook Elementary and has a place where you can leave comments to affected families.