What should you say to your kids about Friday’s killings?
Through Facebook, Twitter, or friends, most youngsters will know about the mass shooting that took place at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Before you talk, act: Turn off the TV, experts say. Be aware of what they might see in newspapers or on the Internet. At least switch the TV channel to something besides news.
But parents can no longer control what their children know by simply turning off the television. Many children will know what is happening from mobile devices and social media.
“It’s important to open up the discussion,” said Melissa Brymer, director of terrorism and disaster programs at the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, based at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Duke University. “There’s a lot of talk on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s important to clarify what’s rumor and what’s not.”
As for how to talk about the tragedy, the experts said, that depends on how old the child is.
Young children and preteens
• Try to make them feel safe.
Tell them what happened is an incredible tragedy and interact with them calmly, but tell them that it’s not an overall occurrence that they need to worry about.
If possible, Brymer and other experts said, parents should use family or holiday routines as a comforting structure. Spend extra time with children at bedtime. Read them a book. Engage traditions that remind them what they are thankful for.
• Show them protective affection. They’ll want to know their world is safe even when chaos takes place. You can reassure them physically by giving them a hug and keep them familiar with things around them that are still good, such as their community of family and good friends.
• Let them talk about it. Not talking about it will make them think it’s taboo.
• Be alert to behavior changes. If kids can’t sleep or don’t want to go to school for more than a day or two, it may be time for some professional help.
Practical questions will soon arise, if not today then soon. Does a child know his or her school’s emergency procedures? What is the family’s communication plan, should something happen?
“For example, texting is a better strategy then calling,” Brymer said. “The phone lines clog up fast. It may be a matter of children knowing to text, ‘I’m OK.’ ”
And they should be, especially if their parents check in with them and listen. And remind them of something important: that the world is a good place, even if some people do very bad things.
• Talk it over with them, listen and ask questions. And let them know you’re there for them.
• Remind them that help is available if they ever feel like hurting others or themselves. At school, they should know they can go to a counselor and not worry.
Compiled from experts at Davidson College, UNC Chapel Hill, Hospice & Palliative Care of Charlotte and Safe Alliance. The New York Times contributed.