After You Hug Your Child Tighter Tonight: Talking with Your Kids When Bad Things Happen to Other Kids

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Like the rest of our country, I was appalled and horrified listening to this morning’s radio report of the children and school personnel murdered in Newtown, CT.   The news only got grimmer as the morning wore into the afternoon. Well before dusk, the entire nation was struggling with the darkness that took 27 lives.
Perhaps you have an elementary school-age child. Perhaps they’ve seen or heard the news stories. Perhaps they are expressing fear or anxiety: can this happen to us?
Here are a few suggestions on how to manage the conversation.
First, limit your child’s access to media (I know many of you already do so).  Right now, and for the next few days, the same images and factoids will be scrolling across every screen. Being informed is important, being inundated and overwhelmed is not. In fact, limit your exposure to the story — believe me, there will be relatively few new breaks compared to the endless media coverage.
Next, give yourself some time to sort out your reactions and feelings. Calm is key. Your children will take their cues from you. How you say something will have far more impact than what you say, and children will pick up on your own anxiety level. While you want to project calm and control, you don’t want to minimize the situation.
Reassure your children that they are safe. Point out that it is your (as parent) most important job to keep them safe. Talk about all the various ways you keep them safe, and (age-appropriate) how they can contribute to their own safety.  Talk about how rare this kind of event is (it is REALLY rare). 
And point out all the good people helping. Mr. Fred Rogers pointed out that his own mother told him to look for the helpers when he saw scary things in the news. It always comforted him that there were so many good, caring people out there ready to help. 
It may even help your children if they thought of ways they could help the other children affected by this event.
Finally, take care of yourself emotionally. At times of dramatic violence, it feels that the world has gone crazy. However, it is no crazier than it was 2 days ago. (Take a deep breath and remember that, over the last couple of decades, gun violence has actually decreased.) Find support among your adult family and friends.
And join the local and national conversation about what real safety should look like, and how we can achieve it in our children’s lifetimes.