A Month Later

“What to tell your children?”

January 08, 2013

Post-traumatic stress often occurs a month or more after a catastrophic incident. A month after the tragic Newtown shootings of elementary school children, your children may begin to feel some anxiety.

The Connecticut shooting’s graphic images and the newscasters’ words together brought the tragedy very close to home. So close that we now ask ourselves, “What and how to tell our children?” Our children see the images and hear the details of these children who like them, attended school every day: only these young Newtown children died violently while they were at school.

Our children lost their sense of security. In early childhood, stories are misheard or misinterpreted, facts are mangled and the game of “telephone” takes over with the adult caregiver needed to serve as the “operator” to clarify the conversation.

Some suggestions listed below may help parents put their children at ease.What should you do now or in the next few months, if your children bring up the Newtown shootings?

Let the children come to you with their questions. Unless you notice unusual changes in their behavior, let them come to you. Talking about these events without any context may frighten, rather than console a child. Remember that just as we have different abilities and ways to process events so too do our children. Allow the children time to “process” the event and to form their questions.

Each child understands the events on her/his age, and gender level. Four year old girls and eight year old boys will often be exposed to the same event and will experience it differently. While young children want to understand the world, we must temper our explanation to their developmental level.

Watch their play. One use of play is for children to express their understanding of their world and their feelings. Watch your children’s play for any unusual signs.

Children are resilient. They move on and grow when we as adults acknowledge and respect their resilience.

Make them feel safe. Let them know that we, the significant adults in their lives, will attempt to keep them safe and not allow bad things to happen to them. Tell your child that while events like this do happen, they are rare. False assurances of “nothing will happen” ring hollow and miss their mark.

There is no more apt way to summarize these suggestions than to remember The Passover Haggadah’s son who does not know what to ask. The obligation of the parent of that child is to create an environment wherein the child will be comfortable to ask his questions or express his feelings verbally or non-verbally and will be able to grasp to the thought through answers of the caring adult. Your child may bring up Newtown today or a year from now. Make your children feel secure and loved when they express concerns about such horrific tragedies.