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How to Talk to Your Kids About School Shootings

An expert shares advice for parents who are trying to explain the Newtown, CT, school shooting to their kids.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting tragedy, parents are wondering what to tell their children about what happened and how to help them process what they may be hearing from friends, on television and via social media.

This week in Anne Arundel County, social media has played a big part in the spreading of rumors. On Wednesday, county officials held a press conference to report that school shooting threats are unfounded.

A Southern Middle student set off a firecracker at the school early in the week and a Broadneck High student was suspended for making a gun threat.

Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) alerted parents Wednesday that there will be increased security at local schools for the rest of the week. The emergency drills and police presence at schools may prompt children to ask their parents questions about the rumors and the Connecticut incident.

Lauren Hutchinson is a licensed child and family therapist and parenting consultant with a practice in Bellevue, WA. She says step one for parents is to turn off the TV.

“We don’t want to have the TV playing in the background all the time," she said. "It isn’t helpful and the news is traumatizing for kids to watch.” 

For kids age 7 and younger, Hutchinson recommended: “You want to shield them from the media coverage completely and parents should not initiate a conversation about the event because kids this age cannot make sense of what has happened.

“Kids don’t need to know the specific details of the event, like that the shooter was dressed all in black,” she said, adding that younger kids “hold tight to those kinds of negative images.”

For kids ages 7 to 12, Hutchinson recommended: “You might provide them with basic information and reassure them ... the most important thing for kids this age is to know that they are safe. Talk about how parents and school teachers and staff work hard to protect kids."

Hutchinson said she has two children herself and that she will process the event differently with each because of their ages.

“My seventh grader will have access to friends with smartphones," she said. "With him I’m going to answer questions, not rehash the event, and respond to specific questions and concerns he has. With adolescents, there is an opportunity to talk in greater depth and have an actual conversation about what happened, what might make someone do something like this, etc."

Hutchison said one of the most helpful things parents can do for their children, now and in the weeks ahead, is to take action.

“They need a meaningful way to express their emotions and process what happened,” she said.

For her own children, her family will be lighting a candle and saying a prayer for the victims and their families.

TELL US: What have you told your children? Tell us in the comments.

See more:

  • Police Call School Shooting Threats Unfounded
  • Broadneck Student Suspended for Gun Threat
  • Student Sets Off Firecracker Inside Southern Middle

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