In the wake of the tragic shooting in Connecticut, USA, or other disasters in your region, many children will have questions, concerns, and fears that need parent/teacher attention. It is important that we deal with these issues forthrightly and appropriately. The resources below may be helpful in guiding your response.
1. Listen. If kids want to tell you what they heard about the killings in Connecticut, then let them put it into words. As they voice what is bouncing around in their heads, it’s a good step in bringing some order to their thoughts. It will also make you aware of any misinterpretations or false information.
2. Pray. Listen first, so you have a reading on what the children are feeling. Then, go to prayer-fervent prayer of humility. This is the perfect time to teach kids that we start out praying. It’s not our last resort. As a group, begin praying today for the families and the other kids at the Connecticut school (and/or other disaster), and continue to pray for them in the weeks ahead.
3. Talk in small groups. The emotion of a large group, as kids fill in the details they have overheard, can cause more harm than good. Talking with individual students or small groups will give more children the opportunity to speak their thoughts.
4. Allow them to be sad, or mad, or angry. If squelched now, those feelings will find a way to come out eventually. Acknowledge that this incident makes us feel a lot of different ways. God is not afraid of our emotions-He made them for our benefit-and they have their time and place.
5. Be truthful. Don’t pretend to have all the answers. You don’t, so be authentic with the kids and admit that you’re working through this along with them. Tell them how your heart was crushed and your eyes welled with tears when you heard what had happened to these children.
6. Give short answers. As a child asks a question, a whole dissertation is flashing through your mind. Keep your answers very short, because that’s really what they want at this point.
7. Don’t displace your reactions on the children. Children easily pick up drastic reactions, comments, and emotions of people they look up to. Be cautious with what you say, in front of them or what they may overhear.
8. Assure them that you will do everything in your power to keep them safe. All the safety measures that you have in place are because you love them and want them to be safe.
9. Watch for children who display extreme anxiety over this incident. Pay attention to your child’s behavior, or comments about unusual speech or actions reported by another adult. Don’t hesitate to talk with a counselor in private if a child is displaying reactions far beyond what other children are.
10. Remind them that this was NOT from God. Help kids understand that there is evil in the world, and it was that evil that brought this about.
These points were shared by the North American Division Children’s Ministry newsletter, December 17, 2012.
- Children’s Ministry article: Helping Children Deal with Death
- An Exchange article by Diane Levin: When the World is a Dangerous Place — Helping Children Deal with Violence in the News
- A New York Times article: Tips for Talking to Children About the Shooting
- Advice from National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Talking to Children about the Shooting
- Advice from the National Association of School Psychologists: A National Tragedy: Helping Children Cope
- A resource from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Tips for Talking to Children and Youth after Traumatic Events
- Fred Rogers’ advice from Family Communications: Helping Children Deal with Tragic Events in the News
- Advice from the American Psychological Association: Helping Your Children Manage Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting
- Penn State Children’s Hospital Booklet: Helping Children Cope After a Disaster
- Article from Young Child Ministries: Children and Grief