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Parenting During Tragic Times, Part I

On December 14th a gunman stormed Newtown, Connecticut’s  Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 27 people, the majority of the casualties being children between the ages of 5 and 8. The horrific incident has sparked debates over gun control laws and mental health care reform. In addition to shocking and wounding the nation deeply, the Sandy Hook tragedy has confronted parents with difficult questions from their younger children.

Do We Tell the Children?

After a horrific incident like the Sandy Hook shooting, parents the world over hug their children more often and tighter. Parents with safe, living children feel the other parents’ excruciating pain of losing a child; but parents with unharmed children also feel guilt over their good fortune. That is, until those parents must explain what happened to their children.

Most parents teeter on the brink of telling and not telling their children about tragedies, but think about this: If you don’t bring up the topic with your children, someone else will either directly with your child or indirectly. Children are usually in their strange little day dream spheres, but that does not mean they are not observant. News of the Sandy Hook shooting is bound to wind up on the child’s radar. So instead of hearing about it through the grapevine, it is best to break the news to them yourself in a safe, trusting environment.

How to Talk with Your Child About Tragedy

For divorced parents, finding ways and times to discuss topics like school shootings is more limited than married parents. But the talk should feel natural and easy, instead of scheduling a time and sitting the children down rigidly to break the news. This approach will spark some anxiety and nervous behavior because formally sitting down makes it seem like the child somehow is expected to take action or hold this act as a personal attack.

It is recommended to bring the topic up during a longer car ride, at dinner, or maybe during some down time. Ask your child if they heard about the incident, and ask them what they think and feel about it. Keep the conversation open and relaxed, and listen to the child’s words, tone, and expression.

If you detect excessive distress, let your child know the incident is bewildering and it’s okay to feel unsure and upset. However, make sure to ensure the child’s safety. Let them know you will always protect them, tell them how other adults feel protective of children too, and tell them about how schools will take extra precautions as well.

Divorce is basically expected in our society now since the divorce rate has settled at a steady 50%. There are many articles and studies about how divorce affects children, and how to  successfully co-parent. But the recent Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy has exposed an area of parenting we all hope we never have to face: How do you address topics like school shootings with your child? And more specifically, how do two divorced parents address these topics with their child? Read “Parenting During Tragic Times, Part II” to discover ways to co-parent during times of tragedy.

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