Handling Tragedy: How to Talk to Kids About Sandy HookDecember 18, 2012 | Dr. Allen Mendler
Many parents and teachers are at a loss about what to say and how to reassure their kids after the horrific, "unspeakable" events at Sandy Hook. The right words, especially with younger children, need to blend explanation with reassurance. At this difficult time, you might find that the following words will provide a helpful guide:
You might hear other kids or grown-ups talking about a shooting at a school in Connecticut called Sandy Hook, so I want to explain what happened there. A man shot some kids and grown-ups, and some of them even died. That is very, very sad. When I heard about it, I felt very sad. It makes most people feel sad, scared and mad. Lots of people wonder why somebody would do such a terrible thing. It also makes some kids and grown-ups feel worried that the same thing could happen at their (our) school.
Did you hear about this? Tell me what you have heard or seen.
Some kids may share images they have seen from television or social media, and/or their feelings about what happened. Listen non-judgmentally to everything and take as much time as seems necessary for them to fully air their thoughts and feelings. Use reflective listening as your primary support mechanism. Begin sentences with either of these phrases:
- "What you are saying is__________"
- "Sounds like you feel__________"
Resonate to their thoughts and/or feelings in an honest way without making yourself the focus. Try to limit your words to one sentence. For example:
- "I thought the same thing."
- "I felt very upset when I first heard about it, and I still feel sad."
Conclude with reassurance. You can reassure in one or more of the following ways:
- "I am confident that you (we) are safe at our school. Very bad things like that almost never happen at any school, so I am confident that our school is a safe place."
- "It is very sad that the shooting happened, but bad things like that almost never happen at any school, so I am confident that our school is a safe place."
- "I went to a lot of schools while I was growing up. So did all of my friends and family. So did almost everybody in the world. That never happened in any of those schools, and your school is just as safe as all of those schools."
- "I love you more than anything, and I would never let you go to your (our) school if I didn't think it was safe for you (us) to be there."
Finally, after a week or two, you can provide further reassurance by reviewing, in a calm, matter-of-fact way, whatever practiced drills or plans that are already in place. I think it is best to wait, because launching into reviews of safety practices with kids at this moment is more likely to trigger anxiety than it is to provide reassurance.