How to Talk to Your Kids About the Shooting in Connecticut


A child and her mother leave staging area outside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. A gunman opened fire inside school killing 27 people, including 18 children. (Photo by James Keivom/NY Daily News via Getty Images)

It’s a difficult day to be a parent.

This morning, a gunman entered an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed at least 27 people, including 20 children 10 years old and under. This is every parent’s nightmare. Our hearts go out to the families of everyone hurt by this tragedy, even while we fight the impulse to rush to our own children wherever they may be, and hold them close.

But past that, we’re going to have to be able to talk to our kids about this. They’re going to hear the news, either directly through reports, or passed around from child to child, and they are going to have even more trouble processing it than we will.

There is no easy way to approach a subject so frightening, but it must be approached. We found the following general suggestions from to be a sensible place to start:

Start by Finding Out What Your Child Knows

Because the news will spread randomly, and become distorted like a game of telephone, the place to start is by asking your kids what they’ve heard, so you can evaluate how much they know, and how accurate their knowledge is.

Ask Follow-Up Questions

You are in a position to help them start processing the news by asking key questions. How do they feel about what happened? Why do they think it happened? Their answers will give you clues about how to talk about the tragedy.

Keep It Simple

Obviously you know your kids, so tailor the level of information to them as appropriate. But it’s important to state facts rather than suppositions, and while we’d like to shield our kids from all such tragedy, we can’t. The next best tactic is to make sure they are accurately informed. It may be tough, but don’t start talking about political or cultural issues you think may have caused the event, either. Your kids will take such opinions back to school with them, which could end up starting arguments with other kids.

Listen and Offer Reassurance

Pay attention to your kids, and don’t accept “I’m fine,” to your “How are you feeling?” question. As you talk through the facts and ask them questions, listen to their answers, and try to understand what may be really affecting them, even if they don’t realize it themselves yet. It’s most likely, in a case such as this, that their first worry will be that their school isn’t safe. You have to reassure them that it is (even if you’re not feeling it 100 percent at the time), and point out all the things you and the school do to keep them safe. For example, most public schools have specific security plans in place, and teachers are trained to deal with emergency situations.

The bottom line is communication. Talk to your kids, but not down to them. You don’t have to hit them with every brutal detail, but respect their intelligence, and help reinforce their possibly fragile sense of security. More than you need to know they’re safe, they need you to show them they are.

More links to good resources for helping kids through this difficult news (hat-tip to the Darien public library and @erikwecks):

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