Talking Trauma With Kids

As human beings, it seems we want to put off having talks about uncomfortable subjects for as long as possible.

I’m not sure it’s possible to put off talking about Sandy Hook elementary school for much longer. When I was at Amazing Elementary School, where I work as a tutor, on Monday, there was a lot of talk about the appalling events of Friday, when a sick man walked into an elementary school and killed 20 students, six teachers and staff and then died himself. This after having already killed his mother in the Newtown, Connecticut home they share.

The talk I was hearing didn’t come only from the teachers, worried about their young charges. The students had also heard about what happened.

I was asked several times what I knew about the incident, as if because I was an adult, I would know all there was to know about, well, everything. Yeah, elementary schoolers are still in that trusting phase. Which makes what happened at Sandy Hook all the worse.

Still, dudes, I think it’s something we need to discuss with our young dudes and dudettes. I know I want my kids to hear about my interpretation of what happened.

These kinds of things, no matter horrific and terrible they are, really are rare. Not rare enough, of course, but they’re not something that happens very often.

I want my kids to know, in general, what they need to do if something like this happens in their school. Hiding or running away from the crazy with the gun is a much better idea than running toward.

It’s the talks like this with younger kids, though, that will take the most effort on the part of parents to make sure they understand. They’re going to be completely weirded out that someone would kill kids their own age. The most important thing you can do, according to experts, is remain calm.

If you’re freaking out about the whole thing, there’s no way the kid will hear anything but your fear.

“You want to do it in an open-ended calm way, ‘this happened,’ ” said psychiatrist and NBC TODAY contributor Dr. Gail Saltzon on Saturday. “But stay calm, because children take their cues from you. If you’re hysterical, they won’t even hear the information, they’ll hear your emotion. You want to be listening to what they are concerned about.”

Be honest, “but don’t over-inform about details.”

No one is expecting you to know everything or be able to guarantee your child perfect safety from the scum-sucking weasels of the world, but you can be there to listen to your child.

Talk to her, give him reassurance. You can offer them love and arms to hug. Give them information about what happened, but don’t put adult fear into young lives. They get enough of that from the real world already.

– Richard

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