Talking to Kids About the Sandy Hook Shooting

Posted by Brett Singer

There is nothing more horrible than the death of a child. In the case of the terrible tragedy that occurred at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, 20 children were senselessly slaughtered, along with six adults.

While some of us would prefer to shield our kids from this awful news, that may not be possible. Whether or not you take time to talk to your children about the events of Friday, December 14, they could easily hear about it from a friend, catch a glimpse on the local news, or simply overhear a conversation on the playground. They may also encounter increased security measures at school. Unlike other recent mass shootings, this one happened in a place where children should feel safe — the classroom.

This article by Harold S. Koplewicz, M.D., of the Child Mind Institute was not written specifically about the Sandy Hook shooting, but it offers solid advice that applies to any tragic news event. Below, we summarized some of Dr. Koplewicz's tips, and added some of our own. If you have any advice or experiences you want to share, we'd love to hear from you.

Don't Forget Your Own Feelings

It may sound selfish at first, but it's very easy to think, "Oh, I'm fine," and then realize you're not. Many of us reacted similarly to the way President Obama described in his speech on Sunday night — not only as people, but as parents. There's nothing wrong with hugging your kids a little tighter. But you have to "process your own feelings of grief and distress, your children do the same," Dr. Koplewicz writes. You may not be able to do both at the same time, so take a moment to take stock of your feelings before you start a conversation with your child about this or any tragedy. Koplewicz points out that children take their cues from us, so the calmer you are, the more likely it is that they will stay calm as well. The more aware you are of your own emotions, the better off everyone will be.

Remember How Old (Or Young) Your Child Is

Koplewicz puts it this way — "Be developmentally appropriate." What that means is avoid offering "too much information, as this may be overwhelming" to your child. No matter how precocious your two-year-old is, they probably don't need to know every detail about the shooter, or how many little ones lost their lives.

Spend Extra Time with Your Kids

This is good advice in general, and is particularly important in the wake of a disaster like Sandy Hook. "If your child is upset, just spending time with him may make him feel safer," Dr. Koplewicz writes. Think about any other time they might have been upset about something. Aside from times when they misbehave and require a much-needed "time out," young children generally calm down when you hang out with them. Take out the board games, play with toy dinosaurs, draw pictures — whatever they enjoy doing, do it with them. You'll probably both feel better.

Read the full article at

Are you talking to your children about Sandy Hook? Have they asked you any questions about it? What did you say? Let us know in the comments or in the forums.


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