Sandy Hook School Tragedy: Helpful Tips for Talking to Your Kids

December 14, 2012 16 Comments »

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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.

 -Leticia

 

UPDATES

  • (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.

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16 Comments

  1. Christine W December 14, 2012 at 3:34 pm -

    Great advice Leticia. I have been dreading talking to my son when he comes home from school and your advice helped a lot. Such a sad day.

    • Leticia December 14, 2012 at 3:59 pm -

      I’m so glad Christine!

  2. Glen Fuller December 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm -

    Thank you for writing this. My first reaction was to figure out how to hide the news from my kids( I know it would be impossible). Your tips will help the discussion that is coming tonight.

    • Leticia December 14, 2012 at 3:59 pm -

      Hi Glen! You are most welcome. Parenting is a hard enough task as it is that is made even more difficult when events like this happen when and we don’t know how to begin addressing them with our kids. Sending huge hugs your way!

  3. aimee @ smilingmama December 14, 2012 at 3:39 pm -

    Thank you, Leticia. I would never, ever think you were trying to capitalize on something like this. I am grateful that you wrote this an am going to share it with friends.

    • Leticia December 14, 2012 at 4:00 pm -

      Thanks Aimee! I know my regular readers wouldn’t but would hate to think that someone might think this when it’s so far from what this site is about! Hope you have a great weekend!

  4. Kim - Mommycosm December 14, 2012 at 3:39 pm -

    I SO don’t think you’re trying to capitalize on a tragedy. Thank you for writing this. Reading as I am sitting here waiting to pick my kids up off the their bus and am struggling to compose myself. It’s just so unfathomable. My heart hurts – for the kids at the school, for the teachers, their families and their community – and for the innocence that will be lost by other elementary school kids around the world as they sit and wonder if something so horrific could happen to them.

    • Leticia December 14, 2012 at 5:30 pm -

      You’re welcome, Kim. As I watched my own two children, and many others, run out of school with big smiles into arms of awaiting parents, I truly felt for the kids at Sandy Hook Elementary whose innocence was lost because of what they were subjected to today.

  5. Vicki December 14, 2012 at 3:53 pm -

    Beautifully written. Thank you so much for guidance on this heartbreaking day…

    • Leticia December 14, 2012 at 3:57 pm -

      Thank you so much! I truly hope it helps some parents as their children look to them for answers that they don’t have.

  6. Jeanette December 14, 2012 at 4:09 pm -

    Thank you, Leticia. Very helpful in separating my emotions from what kids need to see and hear. A wonderfully written piece

    • Leticia December 14, 2012 at 5:44 pm -

      Thanks Jeanette. It’s hard to detach the emotions from something as horrific as this but sometimes our reactions can truly worry our children without us intending to do so.

  7. lisa @StudioJewel December 14, 2012 at 4:24 pm -

    thank you Leticia, well said…

  8. Selfish Mom December 14, 2012 at 4:44 pm -

    Thanks Leticia, excellent advice.

    • Leticia December 14, 2012 at 5:37 pm -

      You are welcome Amy. I hope your conversations are easier than expected despite the age differences.

  9. Kelly December 14, 2012 at 6:01 pm -

    Thank you for writing this. I could only share my feelings, and a few links to posts (like yours). This is extremely helpful.