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Talking With Your Children About the Virginia Tech Shooting

Posted by: ljkujawski on Monday, April 23, 2007

Ross Ellis of Love Our Children USA announced that children of all ages are hearing a lot from the media about the horrific and unthinkable events of this week’s shootings at Virginia Tech. “If your kids haven’t heard about it at home, they most assuredly have heard about it at school.” How can you as a parent talk with your child?

As a parent, it’s a delicate subject to talk about with kids. It is much better to nurture children and reassure them that they are loved and safe rather than hide the news from them. Being available for your children, listening to them and talking to them will give them coping mechanisms to deal with their fear.

Children are much more concerned about their personal world and want reassurance that they are safe. Explaining these tragedies to children is important and parents can show their children how to cope without fear.

Love Our Children USA Founder and Chief Executive Officer Ross Ellis said, “Even if adults have their own fears, it is important to empower children with a level of protection and comfort. Encourage kids to understand - not fear.”

Parents should:

  • Be honest with your kids and be available
  • Share your feelings about the news you see
  • Create an open dialogue. Tell your kids 10 and up your version of the news.
  • Let your kids know the difference between news and reality
  • Explore the facts with your child
  • Acknowledge the complexity of the news
  • Help children use creative outlets, such as art and music, to express their feelings
  • Reassure children and help them feel safe
  • Support children's concern for people they don't know
  • Look for feelings beyond fear
  • Help children and youth find a way to think about the event and move forward

Children under ages 5 or 6 need clear reassurance that their world is safe, without details about a situation they cannot understand. A more detailed response is helpful with adolescents. More difficult ages are 6 to 11 , when children are old enough to prevent shielding them from the details of a tragedy, yet not old enough to understand the details. Give them clear, simple explanations, always keeping in mind the underlying context of reassuring them that their world is safe.

When parents are anxious, children pick up on those feelings and personalize it. It’s important for parents to share their anxieties with other adults, their spouse, friends, etc., and protect children from it to some degree.

The way kids handle this very much depends on how their parents handle it. If they believe their parents feel the world is out of control, it’s much scarier. So it’s critically important to give their children a sense of security.

Experts at Cornell University said, “…that in cases where schools have done investigations of student threats and found them to be serious," they have prevented many shootings. Parents should demand that schools and colleges develop plans on how they assess students and deal with safety issues.

Ellis said, “It is important to encourage your children to tell you if they are ever afraid at school. Schools should have an anonymous “It’s Okay To Tell” phone hotline where students can call in concerns about classmates who may a gun or who seem troubled or severely depressed. Kids should know that it’s okay to tell “it’s not tattling.”

No one can guarantee that tragedies won’t ever happen again, but with parenting communication and better mental health triaging at schools, our children must feel safe.

 

 

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