Guest Bloggers Amy Burzinski and Stan Davis have some words of wisdom for us:
By now, adults have heard and seen the tragic events at Sandy Hook
elementary School. No matter how many times we see and hear that such a
murderous rampage could happen to little children, the concept remains
unfathomable to us.
How do we begin to explain such horrific events to our children when we as
adults cannot fully comprehend them? Perhaps by beginning with the idea
that there is no explanation that could ever fully allow any of us to
understand what happened.
What then can we offer to our children?
*The Comforts of a Safe Childhood.*
Children do not need to know about adult problems. We generously protect
them from knowing about our health scares, our financial problems, our
normal relationship stresses. There will be time for them to know about all
the problems adults face when they grow up. We may be driven to learn all
the details about tragic events, yet children are often not ready to hear
about these things. One parent, writing about the shootings, said that she
asked herself whether she wanted to tell her children about the Newtown
tragedy for their sake or for her own sake. She decided that it was best
for them not to know. Each parent or guardian will, of course, make this
kind of decision in their own way. It is clear that young children can be
harmed by repeated exposure to news accounts, as they may believe that each
news report means that another group of children has been killed. If our
children do find out about these events, we should be led by their
questioning to learn what they want to know. They may want just a little
information, and may then wish to return to the everyday concerns of
When dealing with tragic events we have found the following to serve
as a guide in working with adults, youth and young children.
First, give some facts. Without going into graphic detail we can let
children know as many facts as they need about what happened.
Let children know that adults in their lives do everything they can to keep
them safe and help them reflect on the safety steps we take to protect
them. Mr. Rogers of childrens’; TV said: ” 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 mothers’ words and I am always comforted
by realizing that there are still so many helpers-so many caring people in
this world. ”
*Nurture And Support*
A normal reaction may include feeling anxious and fearful that such an
event could happen in their own community, in their own school. Reassure
children of what is being done to keep them safe both at home and at
school. Normal reactions may also include difficulty sleeping, change in
appetite and/or regression to earlier behaviors such as bedwetting,
thumbsucking, speaking or acting younger than their actual age. Some
children can feel more attached to a parent and or objects. These behaviors
can allow one to manage the distress. On the other end, some children may
have no reaction at all. This too, is normal. No matter what reactions your
children have to terrible news, this is a time to hold them more, read more
stories, offer comfort foods and routines, and spend more time together.
Those steps benefit us in these tragic times as well as our children.
Use discretion in regards to how much children see via media. Post 9/11 we
found that many children and youth were further exposed to trauma by
repeatedly watching images over and over again, because some believed that
they were seeing a series of new events.
Children and youth need to know that we want to hear what they have to say,
that we are here to listen and support them. When children and youth do not
ask, and when their actions are showing that they are concerned or
stressed, it is then important for us as adults to ask them what they are
thinking of, feeling, or what they need to know.
One study by the secret service found that in 81% of school shootings at
least one peer who was a friend of the perpetrator knew about the shooters
plans ahead of time. Seventy-nine percent of youth surveyed were peers that
knew of a school shooting that were not friends with the shooter but knew
about him or her and possible plans. Regarding both groups, each indicated
that if an adult would ask them if they knew of any plan by another peer to
harm, they would tell the adult.
We as adults need to be proactive in supporting, asking, and listening to
our children and youth. We need to encourage them to speak to us if they
know or even suspect potentially hurtful acts. We need to abolish the idea
of tattling and being a snitch so they are more likely to talk to us about
All children will experience negative events of some type either directly
or indirectly so it is important for all to have positive relationships
with multiple adults, with peers, to have passionate hobbies and a sense of
efficacy, and to be able to express themselves when sad or hurt and to find
joy and meaning in life. The current research on resliency supports these
We can comfort support and reassure our children through painful times.
With Dr. Charisse Nixon, Stan is co-leading the Youth Voice Research
Project, which has collected information from more than 13,000 young
people in the United States about what works and what doesn’t work in
bullying prevention. His trainings integrate research, practical
experience, specific techniques, and audience participation
Amy Burzinski is a clinical practitioner who has worked with adults,
children and youth for over 23 years. Ms. Burzinski provides training
to mental health professionals, educators, family and youth on the
subject of bullying prevention, trauma and resilience. To learn more
about Amy and her work you can check her website,