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How Parents Should Tell Their Children About School Shooting

Fri, December 14, 2012 5:31pm EDT by Chloe Melas Add first Comment

Dec. 14 marks a tragic date in our nation’s history with the second deadliest school shooting to ever happen in America. 26 people were killed and 20 of them were children. spoke with two experts about how parents of students at the school should handle answering questions and telling their kids about such a tragedy.

Talking to your child about death is one of the hardest things a parent will ever have to do, let alone try to explain why someone would walk into a school and shoot 20 child. The news of Adam Lanza, the gunman who walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT., and shot and killed 20 children and six adults is dead himself and now parents have to deal with the aftermath of such a horrible incident.

When should a parent talk to their child who was at the school?

“This has to be done immediately,” says Dr. Gilda Carle, psychotherapist, and 30 Second Therapist for the Today Show says. “While the image and idea is still fresh, cannot pull the wool over the child. The child knows something was going on, if the child was at the school. Be honest, reassuring, make sure you are not hysterical. The child will pick up your emotions from you. Little children have one thing in mind, will I be protected, will I be safe, will you make me safe.”

“Parents should say there was a very bad man who came into the school and started shooting people,” says Dr. Carole Lieberman, Beverly Hills psychiatrist. “We don’t know why he did this yet. He must have been feeling very bad about his life and very mad at the world. But, there is no good reason for taking another person’s life.”

When is the right time a parent tell their child?

“I would never do it right before bedtime,” Dr. Carle says. “The child may have all kinds of questions that may come about during that time. What you must do is veer the kid away from negative thoughts so the child doesn’t have nightmares. What you can do is make the thought process as easy and reassuring as possible. The child just wants to know, is this going to happen to me.”

“Children also need to be assured that their school will protect them better in the future,” Dr. Lieberman says. “Such as by having guards and/or cameras at the entrances.”

What should parents do for fellow parents?

“The grieving process will be long and hard,” Dr. Carle says. “It’s very difficult to lose a child. What you never want to say is I know how you feel, because you don’t know. The only other person is another parent who has lost a child. You can’t throw away this platitudes to a grieving parent. Just be there and listen, and reassure that parent that you will be there for as long as it takes, as much tears and crying. That person needs to shed. You can be a real friend, standing by. The skin is the largest organ in the body, so if you hold that person’s hand, hug that person, that is very comforting.”

What do you tell a child who saw someone get shot?

“I would definitely recommend they go into counseling,” Dr. Carle says. “Because that image will be in their mind for the rest of their lives and they have to learn how to process that image. That takes a professional.”

“Parents should engage their children in memorializing the deceased,” Dr. Lieberman says. “Such as by going to a religious service, lighting candles, or bringing teddy bears and flowers to the school. Children should be given grief counseling in small groups. And those children who have lost close friends, or who saw the shooting, should be given individual counseling, since they will likely have post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as grief.”

— Chloe Melas

More on the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting:

  1. Connecticut School Shooting — Sandy Hook Elementary Students Recount Terror
  2. Obama’s Speech on Connecticut School Shooting — President Cries While Talking About Tragedy
  3. Connecticut Elementary School Shooting — Close To 30 Dead, 20 Kids