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December 17, 2012

How Do We Talk to the Children?

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: (Spanish version)

  • samuelprime

    Very sound advice. Our children are our treasures. When something bad happens to them it strikes us deeper in our hearts – and angers us more. This image of America as a violent dangerous place has to be changed. It is not my concept of America. We may have the right to ‘bear arms’ according to the 2nd Amendment, but we also have the right to feel safe and secure in our nation – and especially so for our young ones. A much greater effort is needed to get weapons of war out of our civil society — and put in place tougher rules to keep guns away from dangerous people. We owe this effort to those children who died and to those who are alive today. We have a lot of work to do. The end result must be that America is not a war zone where citizens are still living as in wild west days – shooting each other at will.