Today was the first of the funerals. The beginning of seeing the heartbreakingly small caskets as families start laying to rest 20 innocent young children and six brave adults.

Image by dosbears.

We’re all still shocked that the unfathomable has happened in Newtown, Conn. As parents, many of us have been stumbling through talks with our kids about this massacre. On the afternoon of the shooting, my son’s school sent out a link with advice on how to handle this.

It was generally helpful, but like many of the stories and other links out there, it was largely in broad strokes rooted in the recommendations from the American Psychological Association: Talk with your child, make them feel safe, look out for signs of stress or anxiety, take a break from the news, take care of yourself.

So I wondered what my friend Dr. Deborah Gilboa had to say. She’s an ubermom of four who is a family physician and travels the world giving presentations on parenting. She’s smart, nonjudgmental and is filled with commonsense advice.

Dr. G, as she’s called, says to first start trying to process your feelings as an adult. Work on your own horror and anxiety over this because you don’t want to lay all of those heavy emotions on your children.

She also completely agrees with the American Academy of Pediatrics that kids under age 7 don’t need to hear about the tragedy.

“Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be our only opportunity to have these kinds of conversations,” she says, “so it’s really OK to shield kids who are 7 and under on this.”

However, that’s not always possible. Dr. G recommends that if your family is touched by the mass shootings or if you cannot avoid your kids learning about it, check out the following:

Be Honest

“It’s OK to speak in simple truths.”

  • Have a short explanation prepared in case your child approaches you. Acknowledge that something terrible did happen, reassure your children that you are doing everything you can to keep them safe and that Sandy Hook was a really rare event.
  • Be Proactive. Focus on what young ones can do to help. Do they want to draw the kids in Newtown a picture or make a craft to cheer them up?

Then Dr. G told me three guidelines to follow, and make to the proper adjustments so that they fit with my parenting style.

Find the Heroes

“If our kids are going to be touched by the terrible stuff, also let them be touched by the wonderful stuff.”

  • Talk about the humanity and courage shown on that day.
  • For younger kids, one example could be to remember one first grader who bravely volunteered to lead his class to safety because he knew karate.
  • For older kids, you can disguise an assignment as a request for help. Ask them to help you find an uplifting story online that came out of Sandy Hook. The best of mankind can be found using the search terms “hero” and “Newtown. “

You’re Safe

“Ask yourself, what’s in place in our own lives to keep us as safe as possible?”

  • Know the security measures that are in your home and at your children’s school. What is your family’s disaster plan? If you don’t have one, FEMA is a great resource.
  • An opportunity to review. Safety measures likely would not have prevented this horrible event, but when the house down the street burns down, you check the batteries in your smoke detectors.  It’s a good opportunity to focus on how we are trying to keep ourselves safer.

Make Lemonade

“Make some good come out of this tragedy, just tailor it to the right age level .”

There’s plenty of age-appropriate activities:

  • Plant a tree in the yard to honor those who were killed
  • Volunteer at a local crisis center, such as the Good Grief Center
  • Support local law enforcement groups
  • Help agencies that support the mentally ill
  • Have your child or teenager pick what aspect of the event really spoke to them. Is it the teachers? The surviving students? Safety? Then have them pick an activity that can support that issue. Letting them choose honors their feelings and role of importance in the family.
  • And I’ll add this part: There’s a new Twitter trend #20Acts or #26Acts in which people devote themselves to do 20 or 26 acts of kindness in honor of those who died in the shooting. It was NBC’s Ann Curry’s idea and I love it.

How is your family dealing with the Sandy Hook shootings? Do you have any tips to add?


*For more great advice from Dr. G, you can find my girl on her site, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook or next year on PBS as she will have her own show the Parent Institute.



Practical Advice on How to Talk with Your Kids About Newtown Massacre — 7 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing. It is such a daunting task to begin approaching this subject with children … where is the media in spreading this kind of information? We need to support and love one another to get thru, as well as to prevent these kinds of things from happening again and again. This post shoud be broadcast from town-to-town 🙂

    • Wow, that means a lot B! I’d been wanting to do this post since Friday afternoon but because of various life obstacles just got it up now. I appreciate that and selfishly, tell your friends because I also found Dr. G’s advice soooo helpful. She’s so awesome.

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  3. Thanks so much for sharing this, and thank you to Dr. G for organizing her advice in such a useful way. I have a 4-year-old daughter, and we have been very careful to keep any news of this from reaching her ears. However, I am struggling with a lot of anger and anxiety over the tragedy, and so I think all of this advice could be helpful for me, too, as I try to figure out how to process all those emotions. My husband and I need to work on our family disaster plan. I also really like the idea of #26Acts. Thanks for making me feel a bit more in control of my emotions tonight.

    • Hey, I’m all for control of emotions! 🙂 I find that when I think a lot about what happened, I too get angry. Really angry and then sad. It’s the small moments with Logan like when he holds my finger instead of my full hand that I find myself saying: Those parents will never do this again with their child. That’s when I feel just awful, so I focus on treasuring what I have even more.

    • Thanks for the compliment! I too am saving this for future reference because I think it will be applicable in several situations, though hopefully none nearing the horror of Sandy Hook.

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