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Your kids

Ways to discuss the tragic events

December 19, 2012
By Anna Patrick - Staff Writer , The Inter-Mountain

Waking up Monday morning with the images of Friday's mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary, millions of parents were faced with the worrisome, yet necessary task of sending their children back to school.

The horrific killings committed by Adam Lanza in Newtown, Conn. - murdering 20 children and 7 adults total - is an event most parents and caretakers will have a hard time shaking, but what about their children?

How do parents explain to their children the horrific events that unfolded in Newtown as well as other forms of terror occurring around the world?

Stephanie Savitch, who specializes in loss and grief counseling in Morgantown, highlighted three important talking points for parents to keep in mind when discussing the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting with their children.

Savitch explained the first and most important communication step is listening. Since Friday's events have flooded television, print and radio news outlets children will have obtained a basic awareness of the events that took place in Connecticut. Before moving forward in dialogue, Savitch said, the first thing parents need to do is find out what their children already know.

"Let the child lead the way in discussion," Savitch said.

Parents also need to ask their children what questions they have about the event. Only after listening to what children have to say and understanding the questions they want answered can parents move forward with an age-appropriate discussion.

Savitch explained that the second step for parents to take is answering all questions and addressing concerns their children have about the Sandy Hook mass killing. She said it is imperative that parents are honest with their children and answer all questions in a clear and age-appropriate fashion. When discussing issues related to violence parents should also be very judicious when choosing what to say.

When discussing unexplainable tragic events, parents also need to affirm to their children that the feelings they are experiencing are normal.

Even if children ask some extremely difficult questions, parents need to address the concerns and not brush them aside, Savitch said.

To conclude the discussion, Savitch said, parents need to assure children of their safety. Understandably, most parents are probably experiencing fears regarding their children's safety outside of the home, but "the fears of parents cannot be put onto the children," Savitch said.

Children need to be reassured that all adults and school faculty members are doing everything they can to ensure the safety of children. To help parents live without fear they also need to internalize the safety reassurances they are providing to their children.

Savitch said it is very critical that parents carry out all three steps of communication with their children on a regular basis. She encouraged parents to keep up the dialogue and not just communicate about events in Connecticut once.

Marlena Chestnut, a social worker at Cortland Acres Nursing Home in Thomas, said the worst thing parents could do is act in disbelief and denial regarding the terrible events.

Chestnut said, "It still happened regardless," and parents need to set a strong example to their children by addressing the events in a clear and direct manner.

Although discussions about the Sandy Hook shootings will be difficult for parents, important discussions need to happen nonetheless, she said.



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