We are honored to have Robert Pitts, Ph.D, of Pitts & Associates, Mental Health Professionals, provide us with the following advice for parents to counsel their children regarding Newtown issues and questions.
ADVICE FOR PARENTS IN THE WAKE OF NEWTOWN
As our hearts are broken for Newtown, CT, and her families fill our thoughts and prayers, our own children and youth may need extra support. They may have seen coverage of the tragedy on TV or the internet, or heard about it at home, school, from friends. The scale and trauma of this incident, that it occurred at an elementary school, age of the victims, and other factors may cause it to have a stronger impact on the young around us.
Here are some tips and strategies for parents and relatives:
- Many children and youth will want to talk about it—others may not, and should not have to do so. Follow your child’s signals. Answer their questions, as best you can. Do not tell them more than you think they can handle, nor talk about it at length. Assume a sense of normalcy as soon as possible.
- More sensitive children could temporarily show symptoms of fear or anxiety such as tearfulness, bedtime fears, nightmares, difficulty sleeping, school avoidance, brief changes in behavior or appetite. These should pass within a few days to a week.
- Children easily confuse time and place, and do not understand the repetitive nature of media coverage. Be watchful of children’s exposure to continuing TV, radio, and internet coverage about Newtown. Upon seeing the same footage or hearing it in the car, children may think it is actually happening anew, over and over, in more places. They may believe it will happen at their school.
- If your child mentions or appears to have the latter fear, reassure them that you and their school will do everything necessary to keep them safe. They may ask to be kept home from school this week. As most parents would assume, this is not a good idea. As a rule, schools are very safe places, and events like this week will only make them safer over time. Local police are likely to assume an increased gentle/friendly presence at schools in coming days and weeks to assuage children’s and parents’ fears.
- Children and youth may ask why this incident happened, perhaps why God let it happen. Obviously, there are no good answers, parents can say that. It is not wrong to say “I don’t know why it happened.” Parents should be true to their own beliefs and/or faith, consult clergy, children’s or youth ministers for guidance. Based on what your child/youth can comprehend, other helpful responses might include:
- It was a terrible choice/evil act/sick person/horrible thing/very bad/he shouldn’t have done it/not OK
- It’s OK to be sad/mad
- Try not to be scared, we/school will protect you
- God didn’t want it to happen, but helps everybody get through it/learn from it
- God and many people will help the children and families in Newtown
- Those kids and teachers will be remembered forever
- We learn things from tragedies/good things come from them, like better safety/security for schools, governments can make better/safer gun laws, communities get closer/pull together/learn how to be more careful/watchful
- There is good and evil in the world
- If we believe in good, we also have to believe in evil—but God’s on the good side
- God gives us free will/ability to choose good or bad/right or wrong
- Respecting/caring for ourselves and others is so important
- We should never hurt anybody, that is so wrong
- God’s still in control
- Children and youth often benefit from responding to a tragedy by taking positive/creative action, doing something tangible to help. As is often done in schools, parents can guide children to write caring notes/draw pictures to be sent, save/collect/donate money to related causes. Older children or teens may want to research safety/prevention/community, write essays/papers, make suggestions.
- If your child or youth struggles more than you are able to manage, shows extreme reactions, fear, pain, and/or is not improving within a week or so, you can consult with their school guidance counselor, pediatrician, or a mental health professional.