Our community joins the rest of the country in grieving and praying in light of the tragic events in Connecticut on December 14, 2012. Ask as we may, the underlying reasons behind this event will never make sense, and we need to discuss if there are ways in which our society can minimize the likelihood of these mass killings. An immediate priority, however, is to decide how we are going to communicate with our children in a way that is supportive and therapeutic, and not fear-inspiring or anxiety-provoking.
For all children, emotional support and reassurance is essential. Give your kids a hug and tell them you love them. Spend time with them this week and emphasize family dinners, time honored holiday traditions and talking and listening.
The best approach certainly varies with age. For younger children, perhaps those less than 8 years old, do your best to make sure the TV is not tuned to channels broadcasting the news, the car radio has music only, and the newspapers are subtly out of view. For middle aged children, 8-12, it is important that you discuss the tragedy more directly. Always start by using “open ended” questions-ask them what they know, what their friends are saying, and what they think. Knowing where they are “coming from” allows you to better know the gaps in their knowledge and their own personal fears. For teenagers, direct and honest communication is essential. Open ended questions, inquiry as to their thoughts and exploration into their concerns are crucial. For all children, emphasize that the event is over, was far away, and is a very, very rare occurence. You and your family and your friends have never experienced such an event personally, and almost certainly never will.
For all of us, maintaining our normal routines and lives is essential. Scheduled games, parties, and holiday activities should proceed. For the older children you should address this specifically-that we are all sad about the events, but it is important to “go on”. There is no reason to feel guilty about enjoying ourselves as we simultaneously feed sad about the events.
What behavior should be of concern? The inability to go back to normal routines, a resistance to go back to school or a withdrawal from the outside world would be signs of a child having difficulties in managing the emotions stirred up by the shootings. Nightmares, poor appetite, continued focus on the event and change in affect and personality would be reasons to seek advice. If you have any concern, please speak with your child’s pediatrician or family physician.
For more information, visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network at www.nctsn.org.