What to say.



I’m not an expert in talking to kids about things like today’s tragedy in Newtown, CT, but my mom is.

Here are suggestions that my mom has quickly put together off the top of her head, that you may find helpful. There may be more to come. If you have ideas to share, please do, I’m sure we could all use some suggestions.  In addition to my mom’s words, I’d like to add that it might be important to tell your children to be aware of what they say around other kids who may not have had conversations with their parents or teachers about this. Also if you know someone who may be going through some tough times or seem unstable, there may not be much you can do, but reach out if possible.

Lastly, please don’t stop trusting and believing that good-hearted people are the majority.



From my Ma:

ADVICE for Parents at the Time of Major Crisis

December 14, 2012

At the request of my own children and as a grandmother who adores children and who has a background in working with traumatized children my initial thoughts in talking to your children as the Connecticut horror unfolds is scattered and fragmented but here goes:

  1. Children pick up on their parents’ emotions and fears.  They also pick up on what adults are talking about.  Please do not talk on the phone or to other grownups when your children are in the house unless you are willing to discuss your words with your kids.
  2. I believe it is imperative to discuss this event with your children at a level of explanation that they will be able to comprehend.  That being said, this event is incomprehensible!
  3. TRUTHFULNESS and honestly are important.
  4. Here is an example::
    • Something very scary happened today at a school in a town in the state of Connecticut.  We think a teacher’s son who (use your own words) must have been thinking very crazy thoughts, went into the school with a gun.  Pause and see reaction of child.
    •  He started shooting and shot many, many people.  Many people, grownups and kids, were hurt.  Many of the people that were hurt were hurt so badly that they died.  Again pause.
    • Give the child a chance to absorb what you are saying.  Many will leave the conversation at this point and not want to talk about it.  Kids are so much better at taking bad news in bits.  Let them eat, play, whatever if that is what they want to do.  Remind them that you are around and would like to talk about their school and safety.
    • Talk to them about what their school does for the safety plan.  Talk about the lock-down practices that happen, fire drills and all the other things that the teachers practice in order to keep the students safe that they (the kids) don’t even know about.
    • Talk about schools and police working together to make the schools the very safest places in town.  If they question about why the school in Connecticut wasn’t able to keep the shooter out say something to the effect that I am not sure what that schools safety plan was but I know that your school is safe and I bet the principal and teachers are really thinking about what they could do to make your school even safer!”
    • Do you have any ideas on making the school safer?  Praise their ideas, even write them down and encourage the sense of safety, even at home.
    • As adults we need to let our kids know that we are upset and very sad so we may want to hug them more!!
  5. As adults we want to help and do something for everyone who is suffering.  Your children will most likely want to do the same.  This is a way to work out our grief and feel like we are doing our small part in a recovery process that will take a long, long time.
    • An easy thing for children to do is to make cards that you can send to the people of the Connecticut community.
    • Money drives, donations, etc.  As the days unfold we will be reading about what we can do.  As one who has been involved in the past with traumatic events where clothing and food isn’t needed, money is the best donation as well as loving remembrances in the form of notes.
    • For me, prayers for comfort are so important not just for those families affected by this tragedy but for my own family and community.  That is also something children can do.
  6. Please keep the TV off tonight and spend the night with your children.
  7. After incidents like this occur I find it difficult to celebrate the season.  I cannot stop thinking about the families and community who woke up this morning and began their day like any other day.  They may have yelled at their kids before they left or forgot to kiss them good-bye…..I could go on and on.  I am sure you are thinking the same. Take a moment to count your blessings.
  8. I am sure more questions will pop up as the days unfold both for you and for your children.  Be truthful; discuss safety; reassure safety and continue to tell them they are as safe as possible.
  9. Things to watch for in children include:  nightmares, changes in sleep patterns and eating patterns; being clingier; difficulty going to school or to a friends.  No doubt you will also experience these as well.  If they last longer than two weeks it may be a good idea to talk with a professional.  If your child is also receiving any counseling you may want to reach out to the counselor.  I am sure each of the schools will be sending home information about children and trauma and the school’s safety program.
  10. Resources:  The American Red Cross, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Hospice, The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children; check the web, there are many, many sites and no doubt more will be added this week.
  11. Disclaimer:  I am a Child Life Specialist working with children and community traumas for almost 30 years.  I do not profess to have all the answers!  I have only included what has first come to mind during the last half hour that my daughter and daughter-in-law have requested support.  Good luck and God bless you all. Sue Cooper, CCLS (aka Grama/Gram Sally)
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  1. Thank you so much for this, My Second Ma, and thank you, Jenny, for that last line of your intro. xoxo

  2. I have to admit, try as I may when James (who is in first grade) got off the bus today I picked him up and gave him a big hug. I fell apart and when he looked at me like I was slightly off my rocker I said simply, “James tonight there are some Mom’s and Dad’s who cannot hug their children. I am sad for them and so very happy I can give you hug.” At that point he was ready for a snack…I wish I could be so resilient. Thank you for the ideas. While that is the extent of what I plan on sharing with him, I am sure he will come home from school with some questions and it is nice to know I have some ways to handle.

  3. Jenny, please thank your mother for such wise and well thought out conversations to have with our children. With something this horrific and so close to all our hearts as adults you want to have all the answers, but who can in a situation like this. your mothers words are so helpful to understand how are children will process this event and how to help them deal in the everyday life of school. Thank You again Jenny’s Ma!

  4. Susie Cooper-Your words are amazing, truly a job that is so most difficult. Thank You

  5. Sue, Thanks I have a grandson who will be 5 in Feb and my daughter has no idea what to say to him as he goes to preschool 5 days a week. They have monitored the TV to make sure he doesn’t see it but it’s enivitable that he will hear it somewhere or bits and pieces. You also without scareing them want to talk to them about safety and listen to the teacher if they should have a school lock down. Also being aware of thier surrondings all without scareing the hell out of them and making them feel safe at the same time. Thanks for your suggestions I’ve printed them out and will give them to my daughter tomorrow. As always you were a big help. You were one of my first thoughts when I started hearing this this AM. I thought I bet Sue is glad she’s not down there and then my very next thought was I bet she wishes she was halfway there driving like a maniac to get there. Thanks againI sure am glad to have known you for 20 years.

  6. Very well said in almost all points. but I hate hearing about incidents “like this.” (#7) Nothing should be so diminished.

    I’m fortunate (in a way) that my little one is too young to know what happened today, but the babies harmed today are two years older than she is. And it sickens me that in a couple years there will be future things I will have to explain.

    I love your words of wisdom though, and the slow process time, yes…. It’s so easy to want to just explain, without realizing that they can’t handle processing what we have so much trouble telling….

    • Jo, Incidences like this…enormous heart break, violence, death have occurred before and I by no means wanted to diminish this horible, horrible event but the families who have lost thier loved ones, including small children in other acts of violence were who I was thinking of. Also as a responder who has worked too many times with people who have survived violence, I am reminded of all the other tragedies that have occurred that have affected so many people(especially at a time where we are all celebrating love and giving). I hope you never have to explain anything as terrible as this to your child…I pray nothing like this ever happens again and your child is safe from harm. Thanks for the comments and hopefully you understand my thoughts a bit better. Also, I guess you should know that as I was writing this for Jenny’s blog and for my daughter-in-law Deb to have something to look at for guidance, I was and am as distraught as the rest of the world. It was difficult to compose my thoughts and emotions! Take care. Sue

  7. Sue,
    You have always inspired me ever since I was younger and watched my father suffering as he was the first EMT on the scene of a medical emergency in which a friend of the family had committed suicide. He was so distraught and after having debriefing with you he managed to work his way through it. Ever since then I have looked up to you and truly admired your work. You are truly a blessed person that God has put on this earth to help so many people in their times of need. God Bless You and thank you for all that you do. You are truly missed at the hospital, but I am glad you now have more time for your family.


  8. Thanks so much for this…..we definitely all hugged a bit harder and longer than usual last night. My heart is breaking for those parents – count our blessings for sure – and send every ounce of strength to those in CT.

  9. As a teacher and the mother of a 6 and 7 year old, I greatly appreciate your thoughtful advice in trying to process this tragedy. We are sharing your post with other teachers and parents in our district in rural Central NY. Thank you.

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  11. Thank you, Jenny and Aunt Susie, for this post. Even as a high school teacher, I struggle with ways to talk about this with my students, but know that it is important to address and discuss this tragic event because they have television access, cell phone access, computer access, etc. to all of this information. On the flip side, as a parent, I am fortunate enough not to have to discuss this with my children because they are too young, but it makes my heart ache even more because I am a parent!
    Love you both and thanks again!

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