It’s the first day back in class since a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and questions aren’t necessarily getting easier to answer. Just as parents and teachers want to know why 20 children and six educators died, many kids are trying to piece together what happened and what it means.
Here are tools, guidance and suggestions to help you decide how to talk about with the kids in your life, whether in class or at home.
1) CNN Student News devoted Monday’s 10-minute episode to explaining and reflecting on the shooting and its aftermath. Student News is a free, commercial-free, daily news show for middle and high school classrooms. Some students who wanted to type out thoughts, questions, reflections and prayers are sharing on the CNN Student News A to Z blog, as well.
2) Know the signs of anxiety and fear. Children of different age groups express emotions in different ways, whether they’re directly affected or traumatized by conversations and media. Here are suggestions for how to handle each age group, and what signs reveal they’re still struggling.
“It is minute by minute, case by case. It’s really a matter of listening and responding in a way that fits the framework of their understanding,” said Dr. John B. Lochridge, an Atlanta-based child and family psychiatrist.
3) Some are wondering, should you even tell your kids about the shootings? Should you leave the news on? Don’t lie, experts warn, but remember that what helps adults might hurt young people: “Adults like to have all the information and try to make sense of the horribleness. But for kids, it’s too much,” said Dr. Gwenn O’Keeffe, pediatrician, author, health journalist, and CEO of Pediatrics Now. “We have to balance our need to keep up with our need to protect our kids.”
4) Know that most kids can bounce back from a single traumatic incident, even if they were directly affected by a tragedy like a school shooting, said James Garbarino, professor of psychology at Loyola University Chicago and author of “Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them.” For those kids, it’s helpful to get back to a routine and get proper support.
5) “Persistent, quiet, calm attention: This is what our children need from us in the wake of this horror, and what we owe one another as we stumble along trying to figure out what to do about it all,” Michael Y. Simonis, a psychotherapist, school counselor and founder of Practical Help for Parents wrote in a piece for CNN.com this weekend. “Deep listening, rather than quickly speaking (or cajoling, warning, or advising our children and each other) may provide the time we need to experience our ‘nobler instincts’ in the face of all-too-human grief and loss.”
6) As a parent or educator, make sure you’re taking care of yourself, too. Some are sharing their tributes and feelings on CNN iReport. Others are offering to help – or finding resources to help themselves – through CNN’s Impact Your World.