First I would like to send my thoughts and condolences to those affected by the recent school shooting in Connecticut. As we face yet two more recent tragedies in Connecticut and Oregon with the senseless loss of the lives of innocent people, including children, it is important for us to focus on how our children, adolescents and vulnerable others hear about and process this information. It is human nature to want explanations that make sense of traumatic events like these. But unfortunately, there is never nothing can adequately explain why these tragedies happen, no matter how deep we dig.
When an event like this appears in the news, it is probably best not to expose your children to broadcasts fraught with tragic personal stories, graphic pictures of the crime scene and multiple speculations about the mental health of the offender. If younger children ask, explain what happened yourself, in words they can understand. “This was a very sad situation that happened pretty far away from here. The children were hurt by a man who was not able to think very well. This kind of thing happens very rarely and you are safe in your school, your neighborhood and your home.” Answer their questions with the minimal amount of information needed to quell their fears -- but do not go into details. When your adolescents see the news and hear about the events, again answer their questions, watch the news together and then discuss it afterwards with them. Talk to them about how to maintain their own safety when they are out in the world.
Even for adults these tragic events are hard to process. When they are fresh, they make us feel overwhelmed and vulnerable -- mostly about being able to keep our own children safe. But try to remember, even though it doesn’t feel like it today, that these occurances are extremely rare. Be sure not to let the side-effects of your anxiety rub off on your children. I recommend NOT gluing yourself to the television looking for answers, thereby upsetting yourself even more. Instead, take your children to a fun holiday movie. Hug them tight, remember they are precious, and while vulnerable to many things in the world, not in any real danger because of something that has happened in the news.
Happy Holiday Season!