Expert: Children need comfort, assurance after Conn. shooting

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 4:56 PM

Jamie Lampros

Although Friday’s elementary school shooting was more than 2,000 miles away in Connecticut, it can still affect children here at home and leave them fearful and wondering if something like this could happen to them.

So, how can parents talk to their young children about the tragic event that left 20 children and seven adults dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.?

First, don’t avoid having the conversation, said Dr. Adam Schwebach, a Clinton neuropsychologist. Instead, sit down and talk with them and help them get through it.

“If we don’t have an open discussion, then it doesn’t give children the opportunity to learn ways of how to overcome these events in their lives,” he said.

“This should really be viewed as a teaching opportunity on how to deal with and manage these kinds of events.”

It’s important to have an age-appropriate discussion with your child, leaving out specific details they may not completely understand, Schwebach said.

“Children need to know that, unfortunately, there are people in the world who make bad choices. Talking about it can be comforting and reassuring and allows them to have a chance to think of healthy solutions along with their family members.”

It’s important to stick to the facts and stay calm when discussing the shooting, Schwebach said.

Let children know the adults in their lives are doing everything they can to ensure their safety, he said, and make sure they know how to access their school’s resources, such as teachers and counselors.

In addition, don’t burden children with your own fears and anxieties about the situation.

“Monitor their media exposure time relating to this event,” Schwebach said. “Turn off the TV and walk away for a little while. That doesn’t mean you should stop talking about it with them, but it doesn’t do any good to keep watching it over and over again. Too much can heighten their fears and anxieties.”

According to, media stories about tragic events look like things are happening right now, even if the situation is over. Unless you need minute-by-minute updates, turn off the radio, TV and Internet so children aren’t bombarded.

Schwebach also said some children may express their emotional discomfort with physical and other symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, increased irritability, crying more easily, headaches, stomachaches, fear of separation, nightmares, temper tantrums and even school avoidance.

It’s important not to shame a child. Instead, be supportive and patient. If the symptoms continue to get worse, seek out a professional, such as a family physician, school counselor or trained mental health provider, who can help.

“Children are going to worry about something like this happening to them or one of their family members,” Schwebach said.

“They may express concerns about going to school or even having their parents leave for a little while to go on a date. This isn’t unusual, but if it doesn’t resolve after a period of time, it’s probably best to get some additional help.”

The American Psychological Association also says it’s important to keep your home a safe haven for children. Regardless of age, the home should be a safe and secure place for children to be when the world around them seems chaotic. Help them find solitude and comfort.

In addition, if a child wants to help in some way, let them make a card. Writing and drawing helps them to express their feelings. If they would like to send the card to the families of the victims, the address is: Sandy Hook Elementary School Newtown Public School District, Newtown, CT 06470.

“I think another important thing we can do is to come together not only as families but as a community,” Schwebach said. “We need to show others we’re not going to tolerate this kind of violence anymore. We need to find solutions to these types of violent acts or unfortunately, they might continue.”

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