The recent news of the shootings of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut has had a devastating impact on both youth and adults across the country. In the face of this senseless violence, many are at a loss to find the words to express the depth of their feelings. Despite our best efforts to protect children from the details of such incidents, they are often more aware than we imagine of what is happening in the world around them. When frightening and violent incidents occur, children and teens are likely to experience a range of emotions, including fear, confusion, sadness and anger that can manifest in many different ways.
To counteract fear and help children feel safe, parents, teachers and caregivers can provide opportunities for children to express how they feel and channel their feelings into positive actions. In order to provide the reassurance and guidance they may need, it’s important for adults to realize the impact of these kinds of events on them personally and to come to terms with their own feelings. Before talking to your children, take time to process your own feelings and perceptions with other adults.
Be alert to signs of upset in your children, which can include withdrawal and a lack of interest in engaging in activities, excessive acting out, fear of going to school and other behaviors that seem out of the ordinary, and provide a quiet time for them to ask any questions they may have. Above all, reassure children in age-appropriate ways that they are safe. When talking to preschoolers, for example, your response can be simple and direct: "I love you and I will always do everything I can to make you safe."
Difficult situations like this can be an opportunity to discuss family and community values, beliefs and traditions. You can find some helpful guidelines for talking to children in the aftermath of hate and violence at:
http://www.adl.org/education/discussing_hate_spanish.pdf (Spanish version)