Help children make sense of the mass shooting in the US
- Posted by:
- Michael Grose
The mass shooting in a Connecticut school that hit our airwaves on Saturday morning will no doubt leave an indelible imprint on our collective psyches. The poignancy of President Obama’s ‘Our hearts are broken today’ response reflected the mood of people around the world, not just that of the American people.
No doubt this event will be continue to dominate the media over the coming days as new stories emerge, and the important gun debate takes place.
Of course, this event hits a special nerve as it took place in a primary school (where kids are supposed to be safe) and involved young children and teachers who died protecting their charges.
As adults we all want our children to live carefree lives and keep them from the pain and even horror of tragedies such as events. In reality we can’t do this.
So what is a parent, teacher, or other caring adult to do when such an event fills the airwaves and the consciousness of society? Here are some ideas:
1. First and foremost reassure children that they are safe.
The consistency of the images can be frightening for young children who don’t understand the notion of distance and have difficulty distinguishing between reality and fiction. Let them know that while this event has happened, it won’t happen to them.
2. Be available.
Let kids know that it is okay to talk about the unpleasant events. Listen to what they think and feel. By listening, you can find out if they have misunderstandings, and you can learn more about the support that they need. You do not need to explain more than they are ready to hear, but be willing to answer their questions.
3. Watch your language.
The media describes such events in dramatic fashion. Already this event has been described as a massacre, which is very scary for young ears.
4. Help children process what they see and hear.
Children are good observers but can be poor interpreters of events that are out of their level of understanding.
5. Support children’s concerns for others.
They may have genuine concerns for the children who died and those who are left and they may need an outlet for those concerns. It is heart-warming to see this empathy in children for the concerns of others.
6. Let them explore feelings such as sadness and anger.
Many children may feel sad or even angry with these events so let them express the full range of emotions. Sometimes kids feel sadder for the loss of lives that they don't know, than for peopkle they know.
7. Help children take action.
Action is a great antidote to loss so find simple ways to express feelings such as planting a memorial tree in the garden can help, or participating in the gun debate where appropriate.
8. Provide hope and optimism.
Children who know their parents, teachers, or other significant caregivers are working to make a difference feel hope. They feel safer and more positive about the future. So do something. It will make you feel more hopeful, too. And hope is one of the most valuable gifts we can give children and ourselves.
Children’s worlds can be affected in ways that we can’t even conceive of so adults need to be both sensitive to children’s needs and mindful of what they say and how they act in front of children.
In difficult times, it is worth remembering what adults and children need most are each other.