Tips for Talking To And Helping Children Cope

We were all shocked and deeply saddened by the senseless act of violence that occurred  at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. We are all heartbroken for the families, the school district, and moreover the school community. Our prayers go out to everyone in Newton.

Dr. Shirley Lorenz, school psychologist on the Raising Healthy Kids advisory board, has provided some tools for families after a crisis. I hope this offers some support to you as you discuss with your children the tragedy in Connecticut.

Be careful not to pressure your children to talk about what happened. While most children will easily talk about it, some may become frightened. Look for the opportunities and most importantly reassure them that this was a terrible thing that happened but there were many wonderful people who were there to help the children.

Helping Your Child After a Disaster

Children may be especially upset and express feelings about the event. These reactions are normal and usually will not last long. Listed below are some problems you may see in your children:

  •                 Excessive fear of darkness, separation, or being alone;
  •                 Clinging to parents, fear of strangers
  •                 Worry
  •                 Increase in immature behaviors
  •                 Not wanting to go to school
  •                 Changes in eating/sleeping behaviors
  •                 Increase in either aggressive behavior or shyness
  •                 Persistent nightmares and/or
  •                 Headaches or other physical complaints


The following are ways you can help your child:

- Talk with your children, and provide simple, accurate information to questions. Do not volunteer too much information.

- Acknowledge your own feelings with your children. Don’t dwell on negative or speculations.

- Try to take care of your own emotional needs, as children are very sensitive to their parent’s anxieties.

- Watch out for information overdose and monitor their access to news on the television/internet.

- Reassure your child that you are safe and together. You may need to repeat this reassurance often.

- Hold your child. Provide physical comfort. Physical contact is especially important for children at these times.

- Spend extra time putting your child to bed. Leave a night light on.

- Talk about places that are safe and people they can count on.

- If you feel your child is having problems at school, talk to his/her teacher so you can work together to help your child.


Here are resources that I find helpful for talking to children about violence and death:

National Association of School Psychologists on Talking to Children About Violence

The American Academy of Pediatrics on School Shootings

University of Minnesota on Talking to Kids About Violence Against Kids

What I consider to be one of the best articles on talking to children about death (by Hospice)

Explaining the news to our kids from Common Sense Media.

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