Expert offers advice on discussing school shooting with children

pguerra@modbee.comDecember 17, 2012 

— Though it happened on the other side of the country, local children are likely to know about the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week, and experts say it’s important to talk about it.

“Even if we don’t have the televisions on ... they are hearing things at school,” said Erin Nelson, executive director of Jessica’s House in Turlock. The nonprofit organization is aimed at helping grieving children. “As parents, they need to hear these things from us first.”

Nelson advised talking to children in simple terms, telling them the truth is in a manner that’s appropriate to their age.

“Don’t give them more than they need to know,” she said. “Use simple language, but make sure that you really can tell them the truth.”

Reassuring children that events like the shooting in Connecticut are highly unusual is important.

“Alongside the truth, you are going to be telling them what your child’s school is doing to keep them safe and what you’re doing,” Nelson said. Older children can help plan what to do if anything unexpected happens.

“It’s important to empower children when it comes to their safety,” she said.

As important as talking is listening. “Ask curious questions and listen,” Nelson said. “Reflect back to them what they said.”

For some children, it may be helpful to let them translate their feelings into something constructive — let them write a letter to the Newtown community, or draw a picture.

Above all, it’s important to be calm and reassuring. Though parents can be honest about their own concerns, major fears are best relayed to other adults.

“Children take their cues from us,” Nelson said.

She also suggested limiting children’s exposure to news reports about the investigation and funerals for the victims.

“Take a break,” she said. “Keep your routines. Keep your routines. Research with grieving and traumatized children show that routines are very helpful.”

She advised that parents keep things such as homework and chores consistent.

“Just making sure that kids know what’s next is important.”

More information is available by calling Jessica’s House at (209) 250-5395 or going online to

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