Whether you’re a parent of young children, or whether you simply spend time around young nieces, nephews, or children in your neighborhood, you may be wondering how to talk to children about the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Perhaps you aim to sit them down for a serious discussion of what happened and why, before they hear a scarier story from their classmates. Maybe you just want to be prepared with what to say, in case they ask you about it.
Dr. David Curtis, a psychologist who writes for Texas Children’s Hospital, recently posted a helpful guide on how to approach this sensitive topic with children. He advises:
“If your child is exposed to this news, it is important to monitor your own reaction to your child’s questions. Instead of simply saying “we don’t talk about these kinds of things,” respond to your child’s questions in very simple, general and honest terms. Your child will be looking to see how you respond as much as for what you will say. If you show your child that you are calm and able to manage your worries, then that will demonstrate security and reassurance to them. Some things that you can tell your child are the following:
• “Some people were hurt late at night at a movie theater.”
• “Police caught the man that hurt those people.”
• “This happened far away from here.”
• “You are safe here and Mommy and Daddy will always make sure you are safe.”
He stresses that adults should focus on being supportive listeners, instead of striving to be omniscient problem-solvers who have all the answers—after all, in a situation like this, there may be no concrete answers to give. He also suggests minimizing younger children’s exposure to news reports in order to lessen their anxiety; while it is not possible to shelter them from hearing about the tragedy, you can try to protect them from some of the more alarming inputs (like breaking news reports).
Dr. Curtis offers a few more general tips on how to help children deal with feelings and fears aroused by the shooting:
- “Validate your child’s concerns and acknowledge that such feelings are normal.
- Tell your child that he/she can come to you and talk about his/her worries anytime.
- Model coping by sharing your own reaction to the news and describing things you are doing to manage these feelings (e.g. talking with friends, exercising, getting good sleep, etc.).
- Create some dedicated one-on-one time each day to spend with your child. During this time, don’t try to direct the conversation toward the topic of concern, but rather consider maintaining a calm, available presence for your child to share anything that is on his/her mind. Your child will benefit from this time with you even if nothing is said, just knowing that he/she is important to you and that you are physically and emotionally available to provide support.”
Have you talked to children about the shooting in Aurora, or do you believe it’s not appropriate to discuss it? Are there any techniques you’ve found to be particularly comforting or helpful to your young family members or acquaintances?