Talking with children about traumatic events

Northern Lakes CMH offers deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, and the entire community of Newtown, Connecticut. Such unthinkable tragedies — especially those involving our children —take an immeasurable emotional toll. Our thoughts and prayers are with the parents and citizens of Newtown as they cope and respond.

Tragic events like these have a reverberating effect on citizens far and wide. In addition to help which may be available at Northern Lakes CMH, there is a national Disaster Distress Helpline  you can call at 800.985.5990, or text ‘talkwithus’ (English) or ‘hablanos’ (Spanish) to 66746 at any time.

The Children’s Mental Health Network has assembled some good information for talking with children about the shooting that took place in Connecticut on Friday:

What parents should talk about with children

  • Recognize the sudden, unexpected, tragic event.  Be clear that children and teachers were hurt, don’t be vague.  If the child asks if anyone died, tell the truth as they will certainly hear it via media.
  • Confirm that a lot of people are scared and sad.  Confirm that some people will be worried for a while
  • Let the children know the schools, law enforcement, and government workers have been making safety plans for all of the schools in our area and that their safety and security is the most important thing in their mind.
  • Provide emotional support- it may take a few minutes or hours (even days) for the emotional impact to reach the children.  When it does, provide nurturance (hugs, empathy, kindness, calm support) and ask about their thoughts and feelings.  Be prepared for children to need this several times.
  • Do not have the TV news about the event on for an extended period of time – the news stations wish to inform people about progress of the investigation and other aspects of the case – this is not helpful for  children as multiple exposures to this information can exaggerate the event in their minds.
  • Make sure to spend family time together doing “normalizing” activities – regular meal times, bedtimes, play times.  For some children there may be mild disruptions in sleep, appetite, and social interest.  If these problems go on for more than a few days, contact your family doctor, Northern Lakes CMH, or your local Access and Crisis Line.