By Janet McPeek, Ph.D.
President, Crossroads for Youth
As the world continues to ask “Why?” in the senseless tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, families in that community — and everywhere — are trying to return to a life of normalcy. Children who survived the gunman’s attack on the school are experiencing a range of emotions — from grief and sorrow to fear and even guilt for having survived while so many of their fellow students did not.
Perhaps your child has expressed concerns about a similar attack occurring at his or her school. Or they want to know more about the details of what happened at Sandy Hook. What should you tell your children? How do you calm their fears? What can you do as a family to show your concern for the victims’ families?
Events like the Connecticut tragedy can have a profound effect on children and adults. Although the amount of news coverage has decreased since the day of the shooting, it is still a good idea to monitor and balance the amount of time that you spend watching news stories about the tragedy with your children. Research has shown that you don’t have to be at the scene of a tragedy to be traumatized. Simply hearing about it can be traumatizing, especially since we all can relate to being in school or having someone we know and love in school. Such incidents also can bring back raw emotions and feelings for those who have suffered their own loss recently, such as a death in the family.
Children are perceptive, and they certainly realize the Sandy Hook tragedy could happen anywhere. Therefore, you need to be honest and tell your kids that we can never guarantee that something tragic won’t happen. However, stress the importance of them knowing what to do in a crisis situation at school or home. Reassure your children that adults — parents, teachers and other professionals — are constantly working to find ways to prevent these types of tragedies from happening, and they are reacting quickly to bring things under control when something negative does happen.
Keep your child active in his or her normal routines. As we enter the holiday season, let them know it is okay to celebrate and not feel guilty. Suggest that the family take a moment to remember the Connecticut victims and their families, as well as others who are suffering from grief and loss. Although the school shooting clearly sent shockwaves around the world because the lives of 20 small children and six school staffers were lost at one time, violence is taking lives every day in communities across the country and causing undue pain for many.
If your child continues to have a problem coping, don’t dismiss it and think it will eventually go away. Talk to resources at your school or church and seek outside counseling. Following the Sandy Hook incident, schools in our community pro-actively brought in professionals to meet with students who needed to talk about what happened.
When catastrophe strikes, we tend to feel the need to do something positive. Gather as a family and talk about what you can do to help somebody in your local community or how you can support a favorite cause. We can’t change what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but we can make the world around us better as our nation’s leaders explore how to prevent these tragedies in the future.