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How to Talk with Your Kids About the Connecticut School Shooting

When tragic news breaks, it's important not to get caught up in the anxiety of the event, said Dr. Joanne Plescia, director of special services for the Collingswood school district.

One of the things that parents worry about in the wake of violent news is how to talk about it with their kids, and after the Connecticut school shooting on Friday, many of our readers might be struggling to answer some questions.

Dr. Joanne Plescia, director of special services for the Collingswood Public School District offered some guidance that might be helpful in having these conversations.

Above all, she says, the most important thing you can do is to be calm and present to your children and their feelings throughout the conversation.

1. “If they don’t ask questions, it’s OK.”

A school shooting is like any kind of tragedy, Plescia said: The more we focus on it, the more our general level of anxiety climbs. She suggests that parents use good judgment in making sure that the thoughts of the tragedy don’t dominate the conversations in the household.

“Maybe don’t make it a family event to watch the news the next couple of days,” Plescia said.

2. “Whatever types of questions they have, help them to express those questions in a calm way.”

Even if they can’t communicate with an adult level of clarity and self-assuredness, children know how to read the moods and energies of people in the home, and they react accordingly, Plescia said.

“The more calm we can be, the better they are,” she said. “If you as a parent are really anxious or worried, you’re not going to be able to convey a sense of calmness to your child. Maybe another adult can do it.”

3. “If they have fears, let them talk about it, addressing whatever issues they have.”

Reinforce with your children that the event was “a very sad thing and that you’re doing everything you can to keep them safe,” Plescia said. But if your kids have specific apprehensions, you can acknowledge and downplay them at the same time.

“This is a terrible incident but it’s not something that they should be fearful of,” Plescia said.

4. “What you can’t say is, ‘I promise nothing bad will happen to you.’”

Parents should tell their children “parents and schools do everything they can to keep their children safe, and that they’ll be watchful to make sure that their children are safe,” Plescia said.

Comfort your children by letting them know that schools have specific safety protocols to follow in the event of acts of violence. These plans outline how to handle everything from a fire to an intruder, and staff practice them regularly.

“While this horrible thing happened, look at how many children were taken care of because the teachers didn’t overreact,” Plescia said. “If you look at the specifics from the incident in Connecticut, they did what they were trained to do.”

Other resources

Parents who might need more specific advice can contact the Camden County child study supervisor, Plescia said, and there are other tips and resources gathered by Highlights Magazine here.

Plescia said it’s most important for families to make meaningful connections with people outside of the school in dealing with the tragedy.

“School districts respond to children in school,” Plescia said. “The thing you need to do is find that support system in your own community.”

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