Experts offer advice for talking to kids about school shootingParents can start by asking their children what they've already heard and what questions they have, said Dr. David Schonfeld, a pediatrician and director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. If they ask why someone would do something like this, it's OK to say you don't know.
By: Don Davis, Forum Communications
Adults need to talk to children about the Connecticut elementary school shooting, but a Minnesota expert advises parents not to offer too much information.
“You have to just strike a balance,” Abi Gewirtz said. “Don’t avoid it, but don’t overwhelm them, either.”
The University of Minnesota professor encouraged parents to “keep on with your routines” and to answer questions about the shooting, which left 20 elementary school students dead.
Parents need not offer a lot of information children do not seek, she said. Parents should not discuss “their own agenda, but what the children’s agenda is.”
Agitated children should not be diverted to a movie or other entertainment, Gewirtz said. Parents should suggest entertainment only after questions are answered.
Minnesota may be 1,200 miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where the shooting occurred Friday morning, but the impact is strong.
“A child doesn’t understand what 1,200 miles means,” Gewirtz said. “For that child, the incident could be happening down the street.”
Parents can start by asking their children what they've already heard and what questions they have, said Dr. David Schonfeld, a pediatrician and director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. If they ask why someone would do something like this, it's OK to say you don't know.
"I wouldn't provide false reassurance or dismiss legitimate concerns," he said. "We don't help children by telling them they shouldn't be afraid of things that are frightening."
Parents can tell their kids, "What is most important is that you're safe and you're going to be safe," said Dr. Louis Kraus, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Above all, parents need to try to help their children feel safe, he said. Helping kids return to or maintain normal routines can help minimize their anxiety, Kraus said.
Some children may ask the same questions over and over as a way to seek reassurance, and parents shouldn't dismiss them, said Dr. David Fassler, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Burlington, Vt.
"Acknowledge and validate the child's thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Let them know that you think their questions and concerns are important and appropriate," he said.
While parents might feel the need to teach their children what do in such an emergency, the next few days is not the time to develop or bring up your family's disaster preparedness or to teach your young children to dial 911, said Glenn Saxe, chairman of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center.
"Right now, kids' sense of safety and security is shattered," Saxe said. "It's very good parenting practice, in general, to have a kid know what to do in times of emergency, but it undermines the immediate message that you're trying to convey."
Schonfeld said if children bring it up themselves, you can talk about what's being done to keep them safe.
It's natural for parents at a time like this to want to react to Friday's shooting with action, Schonfeld said, but giving a young child a cellphone or keeping them out of school probably will not help.
"I know we really want to do everything we can to keep our kids safe," he said. "You could put GPS tracking on them, bullet-proof vests. There's a limit to what you can do."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.