How to Talk to Your Kids About the Tragedy in Connecticut

Step one: Hug my kid. Step two: Ask him what he knows about today's events. Step three: Let him know that he is safe and loved.
Publish date:
December 14, 2012
parenting, gun violence, school shootings, talking to kids

I can’t even allow myself to think about this morning’s shooting for more than a few seconds at a time. Because this is my very worst fear -- that something horrible will happen to my son and I will not be able to protect him -- come to life on TV and through the constant chatter of the Internet.

Really, today, all I want to do is pick my son up from school, right this minute, and hug his tiny body close to me. To keep him safe. To protect him. How I will do that, I don’t know, but this is my most basic, mama bear instinct.

This brings back a bit of the PTSD I suffered after September 11, 2001. I didn’t sleep for weeks, terrified that Los Angeles would be next. I avoided leaving my house, and I especially avoided crowded places. I didn’t want to drive on the crowded freeways. I cannot even describe to you the fear I felt stepping onto a plane that year to go back to Iowa for Christmas.

Today’s shooting echoes that level of terror, for me, because it hits close to home: I am a parent, and today, some parents lost their children in a horrible and unexpected way. My immediate reaction is to begin discussing home-schooling options with Oliver’s dad. I can recognize that this might be an extreme reaction. I’m still processing.

And in a couple of hours, I will pick Oliver up from school. I do not know if he knows about the shooting yet; I’m not sure if they would have discussed it in his class.

In any case, I must suck it up and be the adult, even if I just want to hug my son and have a good cry. I must assure him that he is safe, that it is not his responsibility to worry about the evils in the world. It is my responsibility to worry.

If you aren’t sure how to talk to your kids about the shooting in Connecticut today, there are resources out there: the American Psychological Association has some advice, and the Fred Rogers Company has a thoughtful guide.

1. Keep the TV off as much as possible. Watching the same events unfold over and over can be stressful and confusing for children (and adults, too).

2. Ask your kids what they know about the event. What they think happened may be much worse than what really happened.

3. Stay calm. Children easily pick up on non-verbal cues from their parents.

4. Prepare for extra clinginess, behavior issues, or bed-wetting. This is normal.

5. Find simple activities you can do together, and spend some time snuggling if that’s what feels right.

6. Keep discussions with and around your children age-appropriate. Also keep in mind that kids may be listening to conversations between adults.

And maybe you, as the adult, need some comfort. I found this particularly helpful:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers -- so many caring people in this world." -- Fred Rogers

I’m holding onto that, for my own peace of mind. I’m going to be looking for the helpers. Because, really, that is all I can manage right now.