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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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What do you do when you’re stumped for something to say?

Kids seem to have a repertoire of “hooks” they use to get us to argue with them. Here are some Love and Logic One-Liners that will get you off the hook and cause your kids to do more of the thinking.

Remember: The “one-liners” are only effective when said with genuine compassion and understanding. These are never intended to be flippant remarks that discount the feelings of your child. If you use these responses to try to get the better of your child, the problem will only become worse. Your own attitude at these times is crucial to success.

“Probably so.”

“I know.”

“Nice try.”

“I bet it feels that way.”

“What do you think you’re going to do.”

“I don’t know. What do you think?”

“Bummer. How sad.”

“Thanks for sharing that.”

“Don’t worry about it now.”

“That’s an option.”

“I bet that’s true.”

“Maybe you’ll like what we have for the next meal better.”

“What do you think I think about that?”

“I’m not sure how to react to that. I’ll have to get back to you on it.”

“I’ll let you know what will work for me.”

“I’ll love you wherever you live.”

And my personal favorite “I love you too much to argue.”

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