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School shooting prompts tough questions
Dec 19, 2012 4:00 pm
With the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., parents throughout the country are faced with the challenge of explaining the seemingly unexplainable to their children.
“Unexplained, random massacres like the Connecticut shootings are particularly difficult because of the loss of innocence and slaying of children,” said Tom Starling, president and CEO of Mental Health America of Middle Tennessee. “As a former hospital chaplain, dying adults might tell me that they lived a good life or even deserved to die, but no six-year-old could make such a claim when their life is suddenly taken. It begs the question why bad things happen to good people, especially innocent children.”
As information about the shootings flood the media, the Internet and daily conversations, children are bound to hear at least bits and pieces of information and misinformation, and those children may have questions. Starling said parents should discuss it with their children, and let their children guide the discussion.
“You want your children to know there is nothing too scary to talk about with a parent, and parents must curb tendencies to share too much or include them in the full media details…One child psychologist told her four-year-old child that a bad guy broke into a faraway school and did some bad things, and she left it at that,” said Starling.
He also suggested parents of elementary-age children refrain from saying that people were killed.
“Parents should still share safety plans and encourage young children to participate in drills and follow the teachers’ instructions as if there were a real crisis,” said Starling.
The best way to reassure young children, according to Starling, is by giving concrete examples of how they are being protected, from the crossing guard making sure they cross the street safely to the school resource officer just being there to protect them.
“The younger the child is, the more concrete you have to be,” said Starling.
He also suggests limiting children’s exposure to television news reports.
Finally, Starling said parents should try to address their own responses to the tragedy, even if it means seeking the help of a professional.
“Try to go back to life as normal as much as possible so as to get back into a routine,” said Starling. “Children will pick up on their parents’ fear.”