Children know that teachers and students have died and that schools are not as safe as they once were. They’re concerned the same things could happen to them.
Twenty children were among the 26 people a gunman killed Dec. 14 before turning the gun on himself.
“I would caution against too much media,” said Dr. Larry Schor, associate professor of psychology at University of West Georgia and an American Red Cross disaster mental health counselor. “It’s better to turn the TV off and talk with them about it. The first thing you want to do is to encourage them to talk.”
Schor said children can be traumatized and often think the killings are still going on when they see the same scenes over and over on TV. It’s necessary to let them know that it happened just once and they are safe.
“Let kids know they are safe and people are working very, very hard to make them even safer,” he said.
Schor said it’s important to listen to children about what they are thinking about the tragedy and find out what questions they may have.
“Listening and accepting are things that help children in expressing themselves and articulating thoughts,” he said. “Avoid overexplaining. Use language and concepts based on the child’s development level. You should be honest, but you don’t have to over-explain.”
Schor said it’s also acceptable to let children know you don’t have all the answers, but reassure them that you can figure out things together.
“It’s OK to share your own feelings, even to say it’s very sad and confusing to you,” he said. “Talk about how it’s difficult to make sense out of things like Sandy Hook.”
Schor said for some kids, writing or drawing may be helpful ways to express what they’re thinking. He noted that there’s lots of good sources online for help in talking with children about disasters, especially school shootings.
The American Academy of Pediatrics website, www.aap.org, has an article on schools shootings and the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters website, www.chkd.org, has a question-and-answer format about talking with children about Sandy Hook.
Schor quoted a passage from Fred Rogers, who was known to child TV watchers as “Mister Rogers.”
“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,” Rogers said.
Schor said people who want to help the victims of Sandy Hook have many options. He listed some of them:
• Those who wish to volunteer in Newtown as it recovers from the shootings can call 800-203-1234, according to the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.
• The United Way has started the Sandy Hook School Support Fund to provide help with funeral expenses, counseling and other services. Donations: Sandy Hook School Support Fund, c/o Newtown Savings Bank, 39 Main St., Newtown, Conn. 06470. More information: https://newtown.uwwesternct.org.
• The Sandy Hook Elementary School Victims Relief Fund has raised more than $73,750. The school PTA will administer the fund, which will provide counseling to survivors, pay for funeral expenses for victims, create a scholarship fund for the school’s students and fund a memorial. Donations: Newtown Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 596, Botsford, Conn. 06404 or http://newtownmemorialfund.org.