Parents should share emotions, reassure kids after deadly school shooting

Purdue expert offers advice

INDIANAPOLIS - While parents struggle to understand Friday's school shooting in Connecticut, they need to be ready to help children with their questions and fears, a Purdue University child development expert said.

Judith Myers-Walls, professor emeritus of child development, said parents don't need to go into the details of the shooting that left at least 27 people dead, but that they should ask children if there is anything they want to talk about.

"Don't assume that the children know nothing, especially the young ones, because it is likely they will hear bits and pieces and misunderstand," she said. "This shooting may be states away, but it happened in a classroom and that is personal to any child."

Myers-Walls said it's good for parents to share their emotions with their children.

"It's OK to tell your children that you are sad, angry or scared, but explain to them how you cope with those feelings so the children can learn how, too," she said.

The emotional trauma can begin to affect your family according to Jim Bush, a clinical psychologist with Midtown Wishard Health Services.

“I think typically you start to see things, challenges at night, fear of going to bed. All of a sudden, these things that used to feel safe, especially school, are now not safe. So home is not safe and the car is not safe,” Bush said.

Experts say these are normal feelings and you should feel comfortable both consoling and reassuring your child.

“The worse thing they can do is tell them don’t worry about it. It’s over, it’s not going to happen,” Bush said.
Bush recommends keeping an eye on your children and talking to them for now.

Some ideas to help children feel as if they are doing something is to light a candle, send a card to a family or give to a local charity.

"Children have a sense that something should be done, and taking some kind of action can help decrease their fear," Myers-Wall said.

Parents can help children who are fearful or anxious of going to school Monday by reminding them about the safety of their school, such as the people who watch out for them like teachers and bus drivers.

"Parents can send something comforting to school with their children such as a note or family picture," Myers-Walls said. "Having a confident and caring parent or caregiver is the most helpful thing you can do to help children not feel afraid."

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