As U.S. President Barack Obama said in his statement to the press on Friday, every parent in the United States (and every parent in Canada who is shaken by the mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut) will hug their children a little tighter and tell them that they love them, and remind “each other how deeply we love one another.”
But even though parents may be stunned by what is being called one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history, experts warn them against passing on their fears to their children.
According to ABC News, Yale University child psychology professor Alan Kazdin noted that children will likely hear about the tragedy, and they may have questions. Parents should answer those questions at an age-appropriate level, without being evasive, he advised, but he noted they shouldn’t dwell on the tragic nature of the incident, nor should they “over-talk” the issue. “Don’t lie, don’t withhold.”
He also suggested shielding children from the bombardment of media reports about the shooting, and to reassure those children who express fear that they are safe.
Child psychiatrist Victor Fornari told CBS News that about 10 per cent of children have anxiety, and may have a “heightened reaction” to hearing news about the incident. Warning signs include withdrawing or becoming clingy, while some children may be disobedient or express guilt or disbelief. “The range of reactions could be enormous,” he said.
As in any tragedy, the Massachusetts-based Educators for Social Responsibility advises that when talking to children about violence, the key is for parents to listen carefully to their children’s concerns, and let to let their questions and comments steer the conversation.