Reflections on Newtown, One Month Later
It’s hard to believe a month has passed since the lives of 27 children and adults were taken at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. The residents of that small community are desperately trying to find a new normal. Just last week, the children have returned to classes, albeit in a different building.
Immediately after the tragedy, I, like many others, was both horrified and transfixed by what had happened. I followed the commentary on television and radio and then went on Facebook to share in the communal response of grief and confusion. The most common response I noticed was from parents feeling totally lost and unprepared as to how to communicate with their children regarding the events at Newtown. I have to admit that even though I have worked with parents and kids for many years I struggled about how to talk with my own children. Now, a month later, the news cycle has shifted, but I am still struggling with how we communicate the tragedy with our children
As parents and caring adults, we all feel a tremendous need to protect children from feeling sad or scared. We somehow believe that if we don’t talk about it or don’t share the images, we are protecting children from their feelings. Adults are often surprised that young people are aware of stories in the news. But in this time of instantaneous transmission of information, it is almost impossible to be so vigilant, that this bubble of security is not burst. We therefore have to consider how to talk to our children, so they are able to maintain a sense of safety and trust in a world that can be a scary place. Allowing children to talk and acknowledging their questions can actually allay fears and quell feelings of anxiety.
A month can feel like a very long time for children, particularly during the holiday season. Most of our children happily returned to school after the winter break and many are filled with stories of gifts, vacations or time spent with family and friends. But some may have more trepidation as they shift gears and re-enter a world that is supposed to be a safe and nurturing place but that can sometimes be scary.
Children often take their cues from the adults around them, so dealing with our own feelings of fear and uncertainty is crucial to helping them feel confident and secure. Reaching out to other adults and acknowledging our insecurities and uncertainty in saying the “right” things to our children is a way of gaining support for ourselves during uncertain times. For most of us, not knowing what to say when we ourselves don’t know how to make sense of situations can feel uncomfortable and somewhat powerless. Hopefully we can find comfort in knowing that we are not alone.
Often we do think we know what is going to make children feel safe and, with the best intentions, we act on these ideas. We are guided by what we think we know, but unfortunately sometimes we’re wrong. Our answers might not be what the children need and we won’t know unless we ask. Allow children to tell you their concerns and worries and validate their feelings. Even more important, engage kids in conversation and rather than giving advice, ask kids what they think will help them feel safe again.
I can’t help but remember the safety instructions that we all hear every time we fly – adults should put on their own masks before aiding their children. How applicable this is in this situation as well! We have to try to make sense of this for ourselves and we also have to acknowledge that some things simply don’t make sense. Not to minimize the events of last month, but we must remember that our kids are generally pretty safe and events like these are rare.
My personal pledge to my children is that I will try to do a better job of listening to them and understanding what they are thinking and feeling. I openly acknowledge that I can’t control everything and, try as I might, I can’t protect them or hold them in a safe bubble. .I have to send them out in the world. I can however be an active and involved parent and I can try to participate in the lives of my children in a way that is healthy and helpful. I hope other parents and caring adults will join me in this pledge – being present for our children while encouraging open and honest discussion.