Marriage and Family Therapist
Cyndi Sarnoff-Ross is a licensed psychotherapist with almost twenty years of clinical experience in the fields of clinical psychology and organizational management. She has worked extensively with a wide variety of…
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Parents Should Trust their Instincts When it Comes to Discussing the Recent Tragic Events with Their Children
Posted in Parenting Big K... by Cyndi Sarnoff-Ross on Dec 18, 2012
In the wake of the atrocities that took place last Friday in Connecticut, at the Sandy Hook Elementary school, the media and the Internet has been flooded with counsel about how to process this event with your children. There is so much information out there that it can be incredibly overwhelming, particularly when that information is conflicting.

Most experts agree that there is absolutely no reason that children 7 and under need to be exposed to this news and that parents and teachers should make every effort to shield them from these current events. There has been some advice from parenting specialists and psychologists that for children, approximately 7 to10 years old, parents should wait until their child comes to them with questions before addressing the topic. As a parent and a clinician I think it is important to consider this advice carefully because there are different schools of thought on the matter about whether or not it is best for kids to hear news such as this from their parents or their peers. Reasonable minds can differ on this topic.

The theory behind waiting for kids to get the information elsewhere is the belief that when children hear this type of news from parents it may cause unnecessary anxiety and the message of their own vulnerability will somehow be communicated. If they hear about it from peers it may not be as overwhelming and parents can then tease out the details of what their child has heard and answer any relevant questions at that time. While I don’t entirely disagree with this notion, I do think that parents need to trust their gut about what they feel is the right thing to do for their particular child. There is universal agreement about discussing the issues with older children and helping them deal with their own sadness, anger and fear.

With regard to the kids that fall in the age range of about 7 to middle school the one thing parents can count on is that their children will hear about what happened one way or another. It may be through media or peers but the information will be discussed. Many middle school students returned to school today to find tributes to those who were killed on Friday or to hear about their school’s various safety plans. They will hear, and they will have feelings about it that parents must address.

These events are so horrific that parents are understandably looking for guidance and something to offer their children. There are some helpful guidelines that parents can follow during this time. As I previously mentioned, do everything you can to make sure your very young children aren’t exposed to this news at all. This means turning off your television and even radio. Be aware of what you have up on your computer screen as well. For older kids try to do more listening than talking at first. Gauge where they are with this news and answer questions honestly. Let them know that this type of event is extremely rare and that the person who committed these acts was profoundly mentally ill (for younger kids you can say that his brain was very very sick). Make sure you are clear that mental illness rarely looks like this and that very few people in the world are capable of this type of heinous act. You can also reassure them that you, their teachers and school administrators will keep them safe.

It is impossible as adults to make sense of this and even more unfathomable for kids to understand how something like this could occur. There are no perfect answers. No one is completely certain how to proceed but you know your child and therefore you need to weigh all of the expert advice with your awareness of how your child will react to hearing about this from a peer. These are sad times for us all and as challenging as it may be, try to keep your emotions and certainly your anxiety in check while around your children. The parents I have recently spoken with have uniformly announced that they are hugging their kids a little tighter and a little longer these days. I know I am.

My heart goes out to those families in Connecticut that lost loved ones last week. My thoughts and prayers are with them.

- Cyndi

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