Response to Sandy Hook: How to tell your children about a tragedy

Dear FPCSA families:
I saw the news this morning about the shootings at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, and just learned that 18 children are among the dead.  My heart is breaking for those parents and families.  Christmas will never be the same for them.  The agony is unimaginable.

You may be wondering how to deal with this with your children.  Here is my advice:

1)  If they are under age 7, protect them from this news.  Wait to deal with scary things like this until they’re older.  You may need to deal with it, however, if they hear about it and ask you.

2) Keep anything you tell them black and white. Yes, the world can be a cruel place, but little kids, well, can’t handle the truth. A child therapist recommends that you go ahead and reassure your children this is isn’t happening to them and won’t happen to them, even if you feel as though you are lying because no one can ever be 100% sure of what the future holds.  Kids can’t grasp probability estimates, so they do not comfort them.

3) Ask questions. Don’t assume you know how they feel. Instead, get at their understanding of what happened. They might be afraid — or just curious. You have to find this out by asking things like “What did you hear? What do you think?”  If they are scared, ask what they’re afraid of – don’t assume you know.  They could be using twisted logic; here, for example, they may think the school is a brother’s school or their school.  Correct any misconceptions, and then offer assurance.

4)  Don’t label feelings as wrong. Let them know that their feelings make sense, and that it’s ok to feel whatever they’re feeling. Never make them feel bad about being scared.

5)  Use it as a teaching moment. Talking about bad things can lead to discussions about how to help others, and gives parents an opportunity to model compassion. Talk about donating to a relief organization, or make the message even more personal. You might say, “Maybe we should write a letter to the President about guns.”  Or “Maybe we should send a card to the school to tell them we care about them.”

6)  If they want to know how God could let this happen, assure them that God does NOT want this to happen.  If they are older, you could tell them that God wants us to love God and each other because we WANT to, not because we HAVE to, and that means God made us free to do things, including bad things.  And one of the reasons we go to church is to help each other learn how to love people, and not hurt people.

7) Limit your child’s access to TV and perhaps even radio for a few days, to avoid the inevitable repeated and disturbing images of the tragedy.

All our children and families are in my prayers, and especially the folks in Sandy Hook.

Together we serve,

Joanne Whitt

Pastor and Head of Staff


1 Comment

  1. Linda

    Sat 15th Dec 2012 at 6:55 am

    Thank you for this. It is very helpful and appreciated.


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