The nation was left heartbroken after a madman massacred 20 children and six others at a Connecticut elementary school Friday, sending shockwaves across the country and leaving many parents to ponder how they explain this tragedy to their own kids.
Images from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. were splashed across television screens and websites as observers paid close attention to what transpired Friday morning.
Scenes of frightened children crying in the arms of their parents will no doubt be stitched into our collective hearts for years to come—as will the photos of the now faceless victims that have yet to be identified.
Parents are now expected to delicately address the tragedy to their children who may be struggling to understand how someone could turn a gun on innocent children. But many ask: How?
“You want to let them know that they’re safe,” Dr. Michael Genovese, an attending psychiatrist at Winthrop University and medical director of Long Island Mind and Body in Garden City, tells the Press.
“You want to reassure your kids,” he adds, “you don’t want to lie to them, you want to be honest with them, but you want to be reassuring to them and you let them know that it’s really not likely like something like this would occur to them.”
Dr. Deborah Weisbrot, associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, stresses that it’s also important for parents to remain calm during their conversation, adding that they should be the ones to address their kids, not a teacher or media outlets.
“The first thing is you really have to present this in a very calm manner and you should be the one to talk with your child about what happened,” she says. “Don’t depend on friends or teachers or other people to do it. You don’t want your kids to hear this on the news, Facebook, or something else, you want to be the one to talk to your child about these events.”
Of course, different age groups react differently, continues Genovese. Parents should be honest, he says, but should be wary of revealing too much information.
“Try to give them simple answers that don’t delve into potentially more traumatic conversation,” he adds.
“You don’t want to encourage things that they may not even be thinking of,” agrees Weisbrot. “Obviously you have to base this on the age of your child and what you understand what your child can tolerate or not.”
Both say it’s important to reassure that they’re safe, especially for kids who are showing early signs of fear and trepidation about going to school.
“You have to reassure them how unusual this is that safety measures are being taken at every school to prevent this kind of thing from happening to them,” adds Weisbrot, “that the police and the people are investigating this to learn from it and to stop it from ever happening.”
It’s important to tell them, “it’s not going to happen to you,” she says.