The shooting of 20 first graders and their teachers in Newtown, Conn. - all killed while in what was supposed to be a safe learning environment, may leave children worried and with plenty of questions for their parents.
Willow Bay, journalist and author of the book “Talking to Your Kids in Tough Times: How to Answer Your Child’s Questions about the World We Live In,” said the first thing parents should do is create a “really safe and comfortable” place for children to ask questions about the shooting.
“Establish that there is no question too scary for your child to talk about,” Bay said on “Good Morning America” today. “The second thing you want to do is suppress the normal parental instinct to tell them everything.”
Bay suggests parents ask their children questions in order to get a baseline on their understanding.
“Remember, they’re processing unthinkable information and adult information with the minds of children,” she said. “We want to ask them questions, like ‘Well what do you think about that? What have you heard about that? Are the kids at school talking about that?’”
Bay said her teenage son has even come to her asking the question on everyone’s mind, “Why?”
“I think in that situation, it’s fine to answer truthfully, which is ‘I don’t know. I think everybody is asking that question today,’” Bay said.
Since younger children think very concretely, Bay suggests a different approach, asking grade school kids why they believe the gunman made the horrific choice.
“It will get them processing some of this information in their own way,” she said, “and then you can steer the conversation to ways people can make better choices, for example.”
For many children who know school as a safe place, there may be fears about going back to class on Monday. Bay suggests parents reassure their children in very concrete and specific ways that they will be safe.
“Remind them that there are adults out there whose job it is to keep them safe. Whether it’s policemen, their school principal, their teachers, and walk them through the safety measures in their school,” she said.
“Also, ask them for their own ideas, ‘What do you think we can do to help keep you safer? What do you think would help you feel safer?’ Often times, allowing them to participate will really help them feel better,” Bay said. ”But then always come back to reminding them that it’s the job of adults and there are a lot of us hard at work to keep them safe.”
Willow Bay is a senior editor at The Huffington Post and a special correspondent for Bloomberg TV. She is an award-winning journalist who worked at CNN, NBC and ABC News for four years where she co-hosted Weekend Good Morning America. She is the mother of four children and lives in Los Angeles.