Experts' Tips For Talking To Kids About Newtown Tragedy

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FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Children hearing news about the tragedy in Newtown Friday morning is unavoidable. Here’s some advice for parents about talking to your kids about difficult situations such as this from the National Association of School Psychologists:

Make sure they know they’re safe. The association’s guide suggests reminding kids that schools are normally very safe places to be. It also asks that parents tell kids that they are safe to share their feelings. “Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs,” the guide reads.

Let them talk, and be patient. Kids often take time to process their emotions, and the experts advise parents to be patient as they express their feelings. Try letting them use drawings, writing or other creative activities to let them express their thoughts.

Keep things age-appropriate. Children of different ages obviously need different information. For kids in elementary school and younger, the experts suggest keeping answers to questions brief and simple, and above all to reassure them that they are safe at home and in school. Older elementary and middle school students may “need assistance separating reality from fantasy,” the guide says. Older students in middle school and above should be allowed to voice their suggestions for making their schools safer, and reminded how they can help maintain a safe environment.

Go over your own safety plans for school, home and other places.

Watch your child’s reaction. Not all signs from kids are going to be verbal. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns might show that a child is having problems dealing with their feelings. If kids show these signs for days after the tragedy, consult a professional psychologist.

Limit television watching. Most channels are running constant updates on the story, and may cause anxiety and confusion for younger kids. Adults should also watch how they talk to each other around children, and “limit their exposure to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments that might be misunderstood,” the association says.

Keep a normal routine. The association stresses that parents should try to have their kids eat meals and go to bed at normal times, and to encourage — but not force — kids to continue doing homework and activities as usual, to help take their minds off the tragedy.

Conversations with kids should focus on safety, both that they are safe in school and to stay away from guns and other weapons. Parents should acknowledge that bad people sometimes do bad or hurtful things, but should also stress that violence is not an answer to one’s problems, the guide says. Other good topics include the difference between reporting information and “tattling” or “gossiping,” and that tragedies like this are extreme, unlikely situations that are unlikely to happen at their school.

See the association of school psychologist’s full guide for parents here.

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