A midnight showing of the Batman movie premiere and tragedy strikes in Aurora Colorado! Death, injury, emotional trauma . . . Parents who are interested in 7 tips for talking with your children about the Aurora shooting, you are welcome to read my blog article below. In addition, check out my interview with The Boston Globe, Health/Wellness where I was interviewed by Deborah Kotz, Globe Staff – you may also find that article below.
Dr. Karen’s Blog Article – 7 Tips For Talking With Your Children About Aurora Shooting
- Create an atmosphere of open dialogue. Talk with your kids not at your kids. The goal is for them to feel comfortable that not only do you have information to share and helpful insights, also that they feel they can ask you questions and those questions will be received warmly.
- Be honest in your answer to any of their questions, even if you do not know the answer to their question. It is important for children to know that they can trust you to be honest with them so they will come to you for future life struggles. If you do not have the answer to their question, ask them their theory and research with them a possible answer. Have an analytical discussion with them. If you do not know an answer to a question, explore with them where the two of you can research to find an answer. Certainly you may have a theory, or perhaps you do not know the answer to your child’s question of: “Why would a person shoot a theater full of people?” Explain to your child if you do not know the answer in a re-assuring way – that you do not know. Specifically you can say something like; “That is a great analytical question, although I do not know why this man did what he did, I have a theory, you want to share with me your theory and I will tell you mine too?” Or, “That is a very good question, I do not know for sure, as certainly we do not know what is in another’s mind, there are those who are theorizing about why. Would you like to know some of the theories I have heard? What is your theory?” Note: in tip #2 you are including tip #1 while being honest you do not know the answer all the while also implementing tip #4.
- Be mindful of your communication. Communicate in an age appropriate manner, as well as fitting to your children’s personalities and developmental level. Children in pre-school who are home for the summer may not have heard about this tragedy. You do not need to discuss what happened with them if they have not heard about it, if you choose not to as a parent. Certainly you can though if you feel this is an important learning opportunity. Parents have different theories on this and that is where it is up to you as a parent how much information about what is going on outside of your home you feel you want to include your children on. Do note though, elementary school aged children and older most likely will hear about it from a friend, it is always helpful for kids to have parents discuss such a tragedy when possible so they are “in the know” prior to discovery from a friend. Therefore, it would be wise for you to discuss it. If you are feeling anxious about the shooting, do not create an anxious environment for your children. In essence, your anxieties do not need to become their anxieties – be mindful of what and how you communicate to fit what is therapeutic for your children.
- Validate their thoughts, feelings, and reactions combined with reassurance. Let your children know their concerns and thoughts are wise and make sense given the circumstances – this is how to validate them. While validating it is imperative to also provide a healthy balance of reassurance. Discuss with your children the likelihood of this type of event occurring recognizing it did happen, and how uncommon and thus rare it is.
- Discuss and develop a safety plan with your children. Children and adults alike feel more “in control” when they establish a safety plan to use, if they were to be in a traumatic circumstance such as this where guns are involved. Certainly although we never truly know what one would do when faced with such a circumstance, it is the discussion of and having a plan that helps put children at ease.
- Role model a healthy reactive response as an adult. In your communication with your children as well as what they observe in how you are reacting overall and interacting with/dialogue with others – be sure to role model a response that is calm and healthy. Children take cues from their parents behavior.
- Be mindful of whether they are thinking too much about this event. Has this tragedy affected your children’s functioning? Some kids will obsess about this event, experience symptoms of anxiety due to personalizing it. Other children will simply wish to move on and just “be a kid” continuing on with their play. If your child is struggling with moving forward after hearing about this tragedy and you have implemented the 6 steps above, and it has been days that go to weeks, consider getting outside help, specifically talk therapy. Family and/or individual counseling can be extremely helpful after just a few sessions. The counselor can help you, the parent and your child understand what the child is thinking and feeling as well as help with concrete strategies to help your child get to a better place.
By Deborah Kotz, GLOBE STAFF
July 20, 2012
After hearing about the horrors of last night’s massacre at the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., kids may be expressing some understandable fears and anxieties about such an event happening in their own hometown. Cable news has been flashing images from the movie theater all day — including cellphone video taken by moviegoers fleeing the scene — and some of the victims were school-age children.
Here’s some advice from mental health specialists on how parents should talk to their children and allay their concerns.
1. Validate their feelings. “Let them understand that they are entitled to feel how they’re feeling,” said Elizabeth Stults, a licensed mental health counselor who has a pediatric practice in the Back Bay area. They might be scared, angry, or anxious, or they might not be affected much at all since it happened far from where they live.
2. Explain that events like these are very rare. Although parents can’t tell kids that a movie theater shooting will never happen in Boston, they can stress the point that such occurrences are very rare, which is why they’re big news when they do happen.
3. Feel free to answer “I don’t know” to tough questions. Kids may ask why the shooter killed a baby or aimed his gun at a 6-year-old. Or they may wonder how God could allow this to happen. “Sometimes you have to say, I don’t have an answer to that, or what do you think?” said Karen Ruskin, a psychotherapist based in Sharon. “Just make sure you answer honestly.”
4. Give kids a little leeway to deal with their anxieties. “If a child doesn’t want to go to a movie for a few weeks, don’t force him,” said Stults. “But also explain that we can’t stop living our life and not enjoy it.” When parents do take a reluctant child back to the theater, stick with a comedy or light-hearted film, not a violent one.
5. Develop a safety plan if such an event ever did occur. This can help kids gain a sense of control. “Talk to them about what they could do if someone started shooting,” said Ruskin. “Maybe run at super-speed or hide under the chair.” Kids will feel more secure if they have a plan in mind for dealing with the unthinkable.
6. Keep the conversation at your child’s age level. “If your kid is young and hasn’t heard about it,” said Ruskin, “you don’t need to discuss it,” especially if your child doesn’t bring it up. On the other hand, parents may want to start a conversation with older kids who are likely to read the news on the Internet or hear about it from friends. “If children don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay,” Ruskin added. “Don’t make your issues into their issues.”
Deborah Kotz can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.