Dear Moms, Dads, and Everyone Who Cares for Children (us all),
I write to you today with a heavy heart, unable to comprehend the unimaginable grief the parents and community members of Newtown, CT are experiencing. I know that every parent in the country (and world) is unnerved and deeply saddened about the terror and loss that took place on Friday. I also know that many of our children who've heard about this event have a lot of questions.
I wanted to share some of the best resources I've come across over the weekend to refer to when talking with your children about tragedy, violence, and grief. I want to break this discussion down by age group.
Let me begin with our youngest children, those preschool age to seven years old. If at all possible, keep them away from the news of this event all together.
Children this young are unable to decipher between reality and fantasy. If they see horrific events on the news, they are unable to determine if it is happening across the country or in their backyard. If they see scary news stories replayed like they often are, they will likely think that the same event is happening over and over again.
Young children are also unable to understand that, statistically speaking, the chances of anything like this ever happening at their own school is extremely low. Everything that little ones see and hear are taken literally. Everything they see and hear feels really big and really close to them. If at all possible, I encourage the parents of children seven years and younger to shield them from the news of this tragedy all together.
With that said, I know that it is so hard to protect our children, even our youngest ones from what's happening in the world. This is being discussed on every news channel, radio station, in church, at the grocery store, between adults everywhere... If your young child has been exposed to this information, take a look at this video with tips for talking with them in very simple, reassuring, and loving ways.
CNN - Five Tips on Talking to Kids about Scary News
Children ages eight to twelve years old
Children who are eight to 12 years old see things in black and white terms and are developing their sense of morality. Begin by asking them what they know and then let them ask questions about what happened. Reassure them that they are safe. Avoid making sweeping generalizations about social or political issues related to the event that might be taken too literally by children in this developmental stage.
Particularly sensitive children in this age range will have a very difficult time with news of this sort. Reassure them whatever they are feeling is okay. Don't minimize or dismiss their emotions. Then focus on how families and communities are coming together to help those directly affected by this tragedy.
Teens are more likely to hear about the events in Newtown from their peers and other sources. Again, begin by reassuring them that they are safe and allow them to share their personal beliefs about what happened. Openly listen first and then lovingly share your take on what happened so you can keep an open dialogue.
Teenagers may take the events very personally and feel that they and their schools could be attacked, as well. Do not minimize or dismiss their concerns AND also reassure them that schools are one of the safest places they can be. Events like the one that took place in Newtown are incredibly rare. Schools, generally speaking, are very safe places for children and teens.
Here are more helpful resources to help children of various ages deal with tragedy, grief, and violence:
American Academy of Pediatrics on Helping Parents & Children Cope in the Aftermath of School Shootings
National Association of School Psychologists on Talking to Children about Violence
Mr. Rogers on Tragic Events in the News
A beautiful article from Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed.D. about Sowing the Seeds of Nonviolence in Schools (Thanks to my daughter's school for this article!)
Moving forward, I believe that we, the parents, caregivers, and adults who are bringing the next generation forward need to wholeheartedly examine the issue of mental illness in our youth. How can we care for and deeply nurture ALL children, including the ones who have the greatest struggles and are the most difficult to understand? How can we, as communities and as a country, be more inclusive and supportive of the families and children who are struggling the most?
I simply encourage each of us to do some soul searching about what actions we believe will heal these wounds and prevent atrocities like this from happening in our schools and communities in the future. Together, we can create a more peaceful, safe, and inclusive world for all of our children.
Sending warmth & light to you and all those suffering today,