How to talk to children about the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut

December 21, 2012 Editorial Staff
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In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and the horrific massacre of the innocents in Newtown, Connecticut, it is important that we, as parents, sit down and talk with our children about the tragic events and what we can learn from them.

Today’s column is sadly devoted to the tragedy that took place at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14. It is critical that parents discuss this event with their young ones so as to assure them that it was an uncommon occurrence that no one could have foreseen.

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The topic so unimaginable a few days ago now has to be focused upon as a reality in all our lives. The daily 24/7 television coverage continues to bring to the screen scenes of this rampage and its aftermath. Our children have heard and viewed these depictions during the past few days. It is, in my opinion, most important for parents to set aside time to speak to their children about the event and also be able to discuss the lessons to be learned.

A portion of every American child’s life was altered on that fateful Friday morning. The massacre of 20 young children and six school officials forever tarnished our children’s garden, one filled with hopes and dreams.

There is no single approach we can take to opening the conversation with our children. We could begin a dialog by asking, what reaction do you have to the event, and perhaps asking them to tell you the story as they perceive it. You will be receiving a story through a child’s lens, and it is critical that you hear it in its entirety. Total accuracy is not essential; it is the gist of the story that you will be listening to. The conclusion of their reciting of facts that will determine your next steps.

Another approach is to tell the story as it unfolded in an age-appropriate manner. The vocabulary has to be understandable and clear. If the child is young, a term such as “a bad man” should be utilized in place of terms such as “the killer” or “the shooter.”

In either of the two approaches, we have to leave open the opportunity for our children to ask questions. If you do not have a response to a query, explain you will find the answer and then offer it.

I drew an analogy to Hurricane Sandy in my introduction. My reasoning is that, as proactive as we are as a community in preparations to avert tragedies, it takes only one unspecified act of violence to render our sense of security and safety inadequate. Although both of these events caused great harm, we have to make sure our children are aware of the safety and security procedures that are in place at their schools for their protection.

While discussing this topic, remember that the hope and heroism that was displayed by the faculty and staff at the school was outstanding. The staff followed guidelines, hiding children in closets and behind solid walls, and constantly encouraging their young charges. This must be conveyed to your children, especially given reports of teachers venturing into harm’s way to save children.

A great deal of emphasis should be placed on the fact that the school rules and regulations worked, and that the majority of the school population was safely evacuated.

It is my fervent hope and prayer that we, as a community, never experience an event such as this again. Our prayers are forever with the innocents who lost their lives at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Dr. Roy Blash is president of Adelphi Academy.

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