If you are like me, all of my waking hours, I’ve been asking myself: How can we make sense of what happened on Friday, December 14th, in Newtown, Connecticut? The most direct answer is, we can’t.
We know the facts. Twenty little children, ages 6 and 7, were killed that morning. The gunman’s mother and six brave teachers trying to protect the students in their charge also lost their lives. As their names and photographs are being released, and as we learn more about each one who died, our hearts are breaking for their families and for the community.
We need to answer our children’s questions. We need to reassure them and calm their fears.
However, in order for us to take care of our children, we must first take care of ourselves. In private (not in front of our kids), we need to let ourselves cry, yell, scream, whatever we need to do to let out our feelings, and then re- balance ourselves so we can be there for our children.
This is so hard for all of us. So here are some thoughts to help guide you as you talk with your children:
- Hug your children.
- Talk with your children. But be aware of your child’s age and stage of development in deciding how much and what kinds of information to share. Very young children may not know what happened. However, an older child will probably know by now. Just because older children may not be bringing it up doesn’t mean they haven’t heard others discussing it. You can ask them, “What do you know about (what happened on Friday in Connecticut)?”
- Ask your children, “How do you feel?” Share, acknowledge and discuss the difficult feelings.
- Shield your child from the 24/7 TV, radio, and Internet coverage. As impossible as this sounds , try. We adults watch because we think it will answer our questions and make sense of a senseless situation. But the more children see and hear the story, the more stress they will feel. It is very hard for young children to distinguish between reality and fantasy. By repeatedly hearing about and seeing the scenes in Connecticut, young children will think it is happening again and again. Even for older children, the repeated coverage will enhance the trauma.
- Take note of where your children are and be careful not to discuss the situation with other adults when your kids can overhear you, such as on the phone and in the car.
- Hold your child close, but also maintain your usual routine. As parents, when we feel fearful for our children, we need them to return to their schedules. The structure gives them comfort. By keeping them home, away from their peers and usual activities, you will hinder their growth and cause them to think something is wrong with them.
- What if your child is afraid to go to school? Tell them many people are working to keep them safe. Don’t go into specific details about their school building, but talk about the people in their school who are there for them. Together, identify and name those people they can turn to for help or comfort.
- Watch your children’s eating and sleeping. They may need extra hugs and reassurance at bedtime. Changes in their usual behavior can give you a window into their world and let you know how they are managing.
- Model your own coping skills. Have your children see and hear you moving on with your life.
Our words cannot do justice for the lives lost. However, by helping our children and our community, we are helping a small part of the world to heal.
By Debra K. Waranch, LCSW-C, Therapy Services, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
If you or your child need more support, Jewish Community Services professionals, who specialize in working with children, parents and families, can help. Call us at 410-466-9200, or visit www.jcsbaltimore.org.