I have an 11-year-old stepdaughter in sixth grade and an almost 4-year-old son in preschool. Before I had kids, I was the cool honorary aunt to many little ones. So I offer these links as an initial way to think about how — and whether — to discuss the horror in Connecticut.
Cole Cosgrove over at MultiCare did a quick interview with a child psychologist.
As a starting point, ask them a general question like, “Did you hear about something bad that happened today?”
If the child says no, there’s no reason that a young child needs to know about this.
Asking a general question as a starting point gives you an opportunity to ask, “What did you hear?” and provide some corrective information.
Anxiety is one of those things that’s very internalized, so some kids may not look or behave differently but they may still have worries.
Look for changes in appetite. Changes in routine. Things they normally would have enjoyed, they’re not doing. They might be more clingy. Potentially nightmares. Tummy aches, headaches.
Go here for the complete q-and-a. Most of it is instinctual, but helpful to read if you’re filled with emotions (as I am).
Another thing I found helpful to read was this page from the Fred Rogers Company, starting with this quote from Mr. Rogers:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
UPDATE: More links. Some of the links have other links within them, to helpful web pages and even PDFs. Thanks to those posting in the comments.
PBS parents on how to talk to kids about the news
Focus on the Family on how to help a child cope with disaster and trauma
From the American Academy of Pediatrics:
As in any frightening situation, young children should not be exposed to the extensive media coverage of the event — in other words, turn off the TV, computer, and other media devices. Parents also can use their child’s pediatrician as a source of advice and support during this time.
From Common Sense Media:
Kids get their news from many sources — and they’re not always correct. How to talk about the news — and listen, too.