Friday, December 14, 2012

What to Tell Kids about the Connecticut School shooting

Sadly, trauma here we go again! Another day filled with tears over a senseless act of violence. This latest tragedy is particularly sensitive to discuss, since it took place in an elementary school. Here are some basic guidelines for parents:

• Don’t ignore the situation or try to hide it. Kids are likely to find out about it eventually from other kids at school, and when they do, your silence about it may amplify their fears. So ask if they heard about what happened and if no, tell them you want to discuss it because they will likely find out later.

• Don’t pull your kids from school over safety concerns. This is an irrational thing to do, and it feeds into a child’s fears that they aren’t safe.

How to explain this incident

Parents should talk openly and honestly about this tragedy. Here are some key points to discuss:

• Explain that tragedies such as this can happen anywhere, just like it’s possible for a small asteroid to fall from the sky anywhere in the world and knock you on the head. But when is the last time you got hit with an asteroid? Tragedies like this can strike anywhere, but that doesn’t mean they are likely to happen where you are at. Such cases are extremely rare, and it’s a one in a million chance you will ever experience a tragedy such as this one.

• School still is the safest place you can be. It’s filled with adults who will protect you with their life, and all in all, far more things happen away from school. The reason stories such as this get so much attention is precisely because they are so unusual.

• Don’t use terns such as evil or monster. These are lazy explanations, and they only fuel a child’s negative emotions. The truth is that as monstrous as this person’s actions were, he was not a monster, but a seriously disturbed human being who committed a heinous act. Describing people as evil avoids a serious explanation and nurtures feelings of fear, anger and hatred.

• Talk honestly about mental illness. Tell them to imagine a nursery full of babies. Inside that nursery, there are no bad or evil babies, because every human being is born good. But sometimes, as people grow up they experience things in their life that cause them to become bitter or angry. While we may never know what drove this person to commit such a horrible act, we can be sure that things occurred that made him feel helpless, bitter, angry, and out of control, turning him from that wonderful baby in the nursery to someone who was so disturbed that he thought this was the best direction his life could take.

• Some things there are no answers for. Explain that it’s hard for normal people to fathom how someone could do something like this. Most people would shield children from a bullet; to point a gun at a child and pull the trigger is unthinkable. Tell them this. Talk about how there are around 310 million people in America, and 309,999,999 would never consider doing such a thing. Try to make whatever sense of it you can together.

• Going forward, we should use this as a reminder to do all we can to insure everyone around us is loved and cherished, no matter how similar or different they seem from us. We can do all we can to try and make sure that nobody around us is ever feeling so helpless and out of control. Taking this approach funnels all this emotional energy into positive responses such as empathy and compassion rather than the destructive one such as hatred and fear.

Finally, our thoughts and prayers are with all the parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School, especially those unlucky ones who just had the worst day they will ever experience in their life. While there are not words to express what they are feeling, each and every child slaughtered in that school is now in the heart of us all.