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Taking Questions

How can we support children after a public tragedy such as the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut?

In light of the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, December 14, 2012, many adults are looking for suggestions for how to support children in their lives. Below are suggestions for what children need and resources for additional information.

Understanding

  • We first need to know what a child has heard and understands about the event.
  • After we ask and listen, we then can ask what the child thinks about what has been heard and what is concerning to the child.
  • Getting this information first will help us decide what kind of information and reassurance the child needs.

Information

  • A child needs simple, clear and true information that fits the child's ability to understand.
  • How much and what kind of information depends upon what the child has heard or will hear, the maturity of the child and the concerns of the child.
  • We want to tell the child enough to help them feel less anxious. Knowing too few facts or too many can both lead to the child feeling more, rather than less, anxious.
  • Most children will not benefit from seeing and hearing news reports of the event. They need the basic facts at their level and not repeated exposure to news reports.

Reassurance

  • Children need to know that the adults in their lives—at home and at school—are committed to keeping them safe.
  • For some children, it may be significant to know that the event is over, it happened far away and the person responsible cannot hurt anyone anymore.
  • Routine and normal activities are powerful ways to assure children that they are going to be OK.
  • Checking in and keeping the door open for communication of concerns will also be important to help a child feel reassured.

Warning Signs

  • Children are often very resilient and do well if given understanding, appropriate information and reassurance.
  • Parents know their children better than anyone and can usually see signs if a child is feeling especially anxious or distressed.
  • Below are some areas to watch for changes in a child that may suggest that a child is having trouble coping:
    • Moods
    • Appetite
    • Sleep
    • Body complaints—headaches, stomachaches, etc.
    • Interacting with others
    • Expressions of worry
  • If your child seems overly anxious or agitated and is not getting better, talk to a helping professional for guidance and support.

Adult concerns

  • One of the best ways to support children is to find ways to be as calm and non-anxious about the situation as possible. This does not mean ignoring or just covering up worries and anxieties, however.
  • Adults may also need to limit exposure to news stories to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Seek out information that helps you feel less, not more, anxious.
  • Allow yourself healthy ways to express your grief about the terrible losses involved in this event.
  • Find and use adult friends and family members for your support, when needed.
  • Remind yourself of some important facts:
    • Despite this event, schools are one of the safest places for children with many adults committed to their safety.
    • School shootings, while they may feel common and one is too many, are actually very rare, especially when we consider the millions of children who attend thousands of schools every school day.
    • Less than 1 percent of homicides for school-age children happen at school or on their way to or from school (Centers for Disease Control).

Additional resources for good information

Suggested questions for future editions can be sent to goodmourning@archildrens.org (please put "Taking Questions" in the subject line).

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