In the Wake of Tragedy – Helping Children Cope

“Our children’s innocence has been taken away from them too soon.” ~Obama.

“Let’s keep our children’s innocence intact if we can.”  ~Lucy

As Parents, our first instinct in the wake of violence such as the Conneticut tragedy, is often to reach for our children. To hold them and reassure them. To explain. But often at a young age, these kinds of tragedies are just too big, too hard to grasp without a longer life of experience to put them in perspective. In these situations less is more.

Listen to your children’s questions. Assure them they are safe, but try to avoid painting too detailed a picture of the violence. Turn off your TV, Radio, and avoid conversations in front of them.

A Message from our Director:

Dear CCC Families,

I am so saddened by the news of the Elementary School Shooting today in Connecticut.  It is a tragic event that our students will have a hard time not “hearing” about.

Here is my take-

If possible do not watch the news or listen to the radio when the children are present.  This type of event is too much for them to understand, even with what we think of as a “clear explanation”.

After September 11th, I had children drawing airplanes and buildings collapsing for at least a year.   The did not understand the images and often thought that a “bad guy” had done this.

After Princess Di’s death, I had children talking about “Princesses” dying in cars.  Again the images of the news were powerful and difficult for the children to process.

In this case, it will be hard for them to get a sense of security or to understand the reasons that this 24 year old young man would hurt his mother and the other children in the school.

However, despite your good intentions your child will hear about it.  Help them to construct an understanding by listening to their questions.

A Model Conversation

Child – A bad man shot children in school.
You – Yes that did happen.
Child- Why?
You – I don’t know, it is very sad, but I can tell you, I LOVE YOU, and YOU are safe. Your school is safe, with lots of Teacher, Moms and Dad to take care of you.

In a situation like this, too much explanation will cause the child to create images, or “answers” in their minds that do not have the time on earth, to comprehend what has happened. So hold them close, and give lots of touch, less words, and show a face of strength to our little ones.

Love and Peace to all of you on this day.
Lucy – CCC Director

More help

Here are some more tips from the National Association of School Psychologists:

  • Model calm and control.  Children take their emotional cues from the significant adults in their lives. Avoid appearing anxious or frightened.
  • Reassure children that they are safe and (if true) so are the other important adults in their lives. Depending on the situation, point out factors that help insure their immediate safety and that of their community.
  • Tell children the truth. Don’t try to pretend the event has not occurred or that it is not serious.  Children are smart.  They will be more worried if they think you are too afraid to tell them what is happening.
  • Stick to the facts.  Don’t embellish or speculate about what has happened and what might happen. Don’t dwell on the scale or scope of the tragedy, particularly with young children.
  • Keep your explanations developmentally appropriateEarly elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that the daily structures of their lives will not change. Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school.  They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence and threats to safety in schools and society.  They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. They will be more committed to doing something to help the victims and affected community.  For all children, encourage them to verbalize their thoughts and feelings. Be a good listener!

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