Every parent trying to come to grips with the scope of the tragedy in Connecticut is wondering how to talk to their kids about it.
Alan Kazdin, a professor of child psychology at Yale University, offers four tips for parents to frame that discussion and help their kids cope.
Don’t Over-Talk This
Parents can easily project their own fears onto their kids. Your kids will likely hear about it, so your child has questions. Answer at the level of the question. Parents shouldn’t dwell on the tragic nature of it, but don’t be evasive. Don’t lie, don’t withhold.
Shield Kids From the Media
After 9/11, kids suffered trauma from overexposure to the media. Child psychologists call it “secondary terrorism.” As parents, we sometimes take the stance that our kids need to be tough and “they might as well know the truth.” But psychologists say they need to be ”coddled, cushioned and comforted” now so they can be emotionally stronger later.
Don’t Pull Your Kids Out of School Today
Try to keep as many normal rituals going on as possible. Go to soccer practice. Keep that play date. Kids need you to know that this doesn’t affect them.
If your child develops a fear of school, tell them, “This is so rare. Something this terrible has never happened before. This never happened to mommy’s school. Grownups are doing everything to keep kids safe.”
Remember that through “middle childhood,” kids have normal excessive fears: the dark, sharks, etc. If they say, “I don’t want to go to school,” help them distance themselves from it.
Repeatedly reassure without dismissing their fears and give them a hug. Touch makes a huge difference.