In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy, parents may be struggling with how to tell their children what happened.
Lauren Hutchinson, a child and family therapist and parenting consultant with a practice in Bellevue, WA, advises that step one should be to “turn off the TV.”
“We don’t want to have the TV playing in the background all the time," she said. "It isn’t helpful and the news is traumatizing for kids to watch.”
Hutchinson says that kids 7 and younger should be shielded completely from media coverage "and parents should not initiate a conversation about the event because kids this age cannot make sense of what has happened.”
“Kids don’t need to know the specific details of the event, like that the shooter was dressed all in black,” she said.
She said that young children “hold tight to those kinds of negative images.”
Susan Burkinshaw, a health and safety chairwoman of the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations and a mother of three from Germantown, says the National PTA website has tips and parent guides for dealing with school violence.
Burkinshaw said ultimately parents have to decide what they’re comfortable with.
“But you also have to be sensitive to the fact that some kids have all the information and other kids have no information,” Burkinshaw said. “You can't protect your kids from the information they're going to hear outside.”
For children 7 to 12, Hutchinson advises parents and guardians to “provide them with basic information and reassure them.”
“The most important thing for kids this age is to know that they are safe," she said. "Talk about how parents and school teachers and staff work hard to protect kids and do tell them that the police 'got the bad guy.'"
Hutchinson says that parents should “read the child’s cues and let them bring up what he or she wants to talk about.”
Burkinshaw said she decided to be open with her children about what happened.
“I can't imagine if my daughter didn't hear it from me, with the facts, or the facts as we know them now, what types of stories she might hear from friends who might have just picked up pieces about it from news of from hearing their parents talk about it.”
Hutchinson said that taking a specific action such as lighting a candle for the victims can also help.
“Rituals are important, especially during times like these, for comfort and healing.”