My first grader returned to school Monday. It was a hard day for us, as it was for many parents. Over the past weekend, Facebook had many, many parents asking each other if other people's young children knew about what happened. Also, parents wanted to know how and what to tell their children about this national disaster.
In general, young children do not need many details. In fact, it is important to keep it simple. For example, you can say, "A bad thing happened at a school far away/nearby. A man hurt/killed some people/teachers/kids there. Some people died there. This bad thing rarely happens. Everyone is making sure that every school is super safe. Everyone is doing their best and working together to make sure that this never happens again."
Keep in mind the age of your child, their true nature (quiet vs. talkative), their natural coping style (internalization vs. outspoken). This is especially important as each child is different. Whereas older children may want a long discussion on this topic, small children, might only want a little bit. Be prepared that they will likely return to the conversation at a later time.
Most important, be truthful. Children can usually tell if you are avoiding the truth. They can also sense when something is bothering you. They may not be able to verbalize it, but they can definitely feel it.
Above all else, be kind to yourself. Know what you can handle at any given time, on any given day.
Understand that you and your child may grieve or ask questions differently. You may not be able to have this discussion when your child wants to do so. If that's the case, you can keep it brief. Let them know that everyone is keeping them as safe as can be. Let them know how much you love them. Explain to them when it is a better time for you to talk about it, if you can. Remember that it's okay to have many feelings, such as anger, sadness, confusion, guilt, and more. Children may not know this. In general, it is good to remind them that it's okay to feel the way they do.
Suffice it to say, there are many excellent resources that can help you have this type of discussion with your children. My goal here is to give you some resources that you can turn to, if needed.
If you would like to learn more about helping your child cope with death in general, in the aftermath of a disaster, and in the aftermath of school shootings, I've provided several links that are truly helpful.
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has the following audio:
"AAP Offers Resources to Help Parents, Children and Others Cope in the Aftermath of School Shootings", http://bit.ly/1zmUARo
The National Association of School Psychologists has an excellent article on helping children cope when there is a national tragedy, entitled, "National Tragedy: Helping Children Cope", http://bit.ly/12khEQ4
National Center for Crisis and Bereavement has an article entitled, "Guidelines for Responding to the Death of a Student or School Staff" (http://bit.ly/1k2wUaX).
My prayers and thoughts are with all who have been affected by this tragedy in Sandy Hook. There are no words that truly convey all of the emotions I have at this moment. Never did I envision such a tragedy. This crisis at Sandy Hook has reminded me to be grateful for everything in my life. Those brave children and teachers have reminded me how much love there really is in the world. The life they lived and the love they shared reminds me to live and love. May God bless the memories of the angels of Sandy Hook, keeping them on our hearts forever.