Engaging Kids After Newtown

As difficult as it is for adults to comprehend the violence that took place in Newtown last week, children and adolescents will also have to confront the reality of this tragic event.  In the days and weeks ahead, parents and caregivers can help kids cope with tragedy by engaging them relationally, conversationally, and spiritually.   

Relational Engagement

Exposure to violent experiences can potentially undermine children’s basic sense of safety and trust in others.  You can offer reassurance by deliberately spending time with your kids, allowing them to experience your caring presence on a regular and consistent basis.  Be physical, caring, and loving to them.  Young kids, especially, need to be held, rocked, and cuddled.  Cultivating strong relational bonds is one of the most effective ways of buffering the negative impact of traumatic stress.          

Conversational Engagement

Do not be afraid to talk to children about the shooting.  Avoiding talking about it can make it seem even scarier and more threatening.  Begin by asking what they already know and listen carefully for misinformation, misconceptions, and underlying fears or concerns.  If children do have information that is inaccurate or untrue, be sure to correct them in simple, age-appropriate language.  Be honest but wise in sharing details of the shooting.   

Limit children’s exposure to media coverage.  Information and images related to the tragedy may be upsetting.  Ensure that they have time to play without the news being on in the background.  Whatever media your child is exposed to, be sure to discuss it with them, answer any questions they have, and reassure them of your love and care.   

Consider sharing your own feelings about the shooting with your children.  This will help them understand that they are not alone with their feelings.  You may express sadness and empathy for the victims and their families.  You may even express some worry or fears of your own.  Talk about some of the ways you cope with difficult situations and invite your children to join you.          

If you’re concerned that your child’s reaction to the shooting is interfering with his or her health and wellbeing, contact a local mental health professional who has expertise in trauma counseling.  The therapists at Tapestry Associates are available to help.      

Spiritual Engagement

In keeping with Jesus’ words to his disciples, let little children go to him.  Encourage them to pray their thoughts and feelings about what happened, and all that happens in their lives.  Avoid attempts to explain tragedies like these, but make much of God’s love and goodness in the midst of them.  Continually point children to Jesus, our greatest source of comfort in both life and death.

-Stan Hoover

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