Helping Kids Cope with the Tragedy in Connecticut

Dr. Oz and I met privately with some families of Newtown, Connecticut after his show taped today. I shared tips with them about how to help kids in uncertain times. While they are dealing with intense grief, the country is also in deep loss. All our kids are hearing about it, now from friends and in school. I hope these tips will help.

1. Do not try to keep what is going on from your kids. Even elementary school kids talk about these shootings. Your family style may be to protect the kids from this reality, but many other families are telling their kids and then all kids talk to each other in school.
2. Show them a recorded news broadcast that you have previewed. During the unfolding of a tragic event, most TV is live and you cannot anticipate what your children may see.
3. Talk to your kids about the event that is happening. Use simple language that they can understand, which is age appropriate (for example, “A bad man shot some people in school. Some people are hurt and some have died.”)
4. Reassure the kids about their safety. Tell them that while what happened is important, most of the world is safe and that the area you live in is safe. Also, reassure them that the police, security and their school are doing a lot of things to keep them safe.
5. Children need words. Tell them what you are feeling, what you think about the situation. Then, encourage them to talk about what they think. It is important to validate their feelings and clear up any misunderstanding and misinformation they have. Younger kids have feelings and no words. Teenagers often have the wrong words. Let them guide your pace.
6. Be proactive and find ways to help. Say a prayer, light a candle, give blood, write a letter to the government with your child, go to your place of worship. Donate some money to an organization that is helping with the situation, and make sure some of it comes from your kids, no matter how small the amount.
7. Reassure your kids a little more, watch them a little more. Make obvious gestures that show you are keeping them safe and watching over them. Remember, kids may have very illogical fears.
8. Be prepared for delayed reactions. Kids grieve very differently from adults.They may not talk about things for weeks or months. Be available to talk about their grief whenever it may come up. Don’t forget about your own grief. Use your family and friends to deal with yours, not your kids.
9. Keep as many normal routines as possible. Routines are very important because doing normal things in abnormal times help us to feel normal again. Allow a little more time knowing that grief is exhausting for you and your children.
10. Remember for your kids and for yourself the concept of possible vs. probable. Shootings are possible anywhere, anytime, but they are not probable in our everyday life. While events are unbelievably tragic, try to put losses in perspective; hundreds of thousands of children go to school every day and are safe. Even though there are times like this when every day seems hazardous, remember that fear does not stop death, fear stops life.