Talking to Your Kids about Traumatic Events

A main focus of this parenting blog is keeping kids safe. In effect, it is what do every single day, every moment in caring for our children. From the day we are first pregnant, we fret about what to eat, how much to exercise, our prenatal care, and plan for how we will best care for our babies. We worry about how and what we will feed them, then as they learn to move, we protect them from dangers in our home, and hold their hands as they learn to walk.

One painful reality we all learn quickly is that we can’t protect our kids from every hurt, pain, or heartbreak.  There are lessons in skinned knees, hurt feelings, and disappointments. 
This week is different. We need to question what children need to know about the tragic shootings in Newtown. We have been reminded how even in our schools, where countless people surround our beautiful children with love, support and safety, unspeakable horror can happen. It has rattled us to the core. We mourn with the parents who are facing the loss of their most precious, deepest love. As we hug our children, we mourn for the loss of those who can hug their children no longer. 
After the shooting, to prepare to teach students today, I read several pieces that helped me focus on how to best talk with my sixth grade students. I thought sharing them with you may be helpful. They were enormously informative to me (and my co-teacher) as we prepared for morning meeting. 
This quote was read at the meeting, and I think it is quite powerful:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” – Mr. Rogers

This message is a useful one for adults, too. In fact, I have tried to be focused on the helpers. The teachers who acted quickly and bravely and possibly saved many more children from harm.

One article in particular helped me think about how most children under 7 have no need to learn of this attack.  It helped me realize that my choice to not share about it with my young daughters was a solid one, and that I should not doubt it, unless they learned about it from other students at school. 

So, to protect your child’s emotional safety this week, I bring you these resources (first shared by many of my colleagues). Please add your own in the comments. We can learn from and support each other.
*An article about what not to say to our children. And how less may very well be the best choice for most elementary aged children.

Today once we heard our preadolescent students talking about it we knew we needed to address the attack.  I spoke generally about what happened, reminded the students that events like this are very rare, and that there are thousands of people working very hard to make sure nothing like this happens again. We encouraged them to talk to their families and to us privately if they had questions, worries, or needed help.

Then, in a very kid-like fashion, the focus shifted to students sharing about their weekends. The rest of the day was quiet and normal. Well, as quiet and normal as it can be with 12 year olds! Children do thrive on routines and predictability in times of uncertainty.

Please do share your thoughts and know that you know your child best, and what he or she needs. Every child and every class is unique and as parents and teachers, we need to respond to that constantly.

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