Fri December 14, 2012
Kids May Ask About the Newtown Shooting. Be Frank and Reassuring, Psychologist Says
Children see the television news. They hear the radio. Older kids read online.
Many already know that at least 27 people -- 20 of them children, officials say -- died Friday in a school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Children can't unsee, unhear or unread the news. But parents can do much to ease anxieties, said a Kentucky psychologist who is part of a team that responds to school shootings.
"What we're talking about now is parents hugging their kids and assuring them that they're safe," said Bill Pfohl, chair of the national emergency assistance team for the National Association of School Psychologists.
The national emergency assistance team responds to most school shootings and other traumatic incidents, he said.
The Newtown shootings, Pfohl said, is unprecedented because of its scale and the age of the children.
Parents can take other steps to help their children comprehend and cope with the Newtown shooting, he said.
First, "turn off the media," Pfohl, a psychology professor at Western Kentucky University.
Why? Children scare as they consume information about devastating events without reassurances that they're safe, he said.
And kids may still get the news, hear things -- and they'll have questions.
Pfohl advises people to answer their children's questions in a direct, frank and honest manner.
And say no more than necessary.
Perhaps the question is, Why did this happen?
"We don't know right now, but we plan on keeping you safe," Pfohl suggests for an answer.
"That's pretty direct with kids -- and they need that kind of directness."
Children are mostly interested in the facts, he said.
Regardless of questions, parents should watch the next several days for signs that the school shooting has fazed their children -- sleeplessness or an unusual unwillingness to get on a school bus Monday morning, Pfohl said.
For older children, parents should also be mindful of social media, particularly watching for rumors of copycats, Pfohl said.
"This age is really tragic," Pfohl said of the Newtown shooting. "People say, 'Kids are so resilient. To be clear, they're resilient because they have good, strong family and community networks."