By Christina Kelly, TODAY Moms contributor
Are you wondering how to talk to your kids about the Arizona shootings? I, for one, would rather not tell my precious darlings that a mentally disturbed young man killed six people and wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 12 other victims.
I may not have to.
“If your child hasn’t heard anything about the shootings, don’t introduce the subject,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, psychiatrist and TODAY contributor. Many children have learned about the tragedy, especially if their schools have observed a moment of silence for the victims, particularly 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green. Or maybe they’ve heard kids at recess or on the school bus discussing it. “In that case, you want to be honest, but not too detailed,” says Dr, Saltz. “Listen to their questions. What are they really asking? Don’t be overly descriptive about gruesome events.”
Some sensitive children may think their own safety is in jeopardy, that danger is lurking at the supermarket. Your job, as always, is to calm and comfort. Experts suggest that you stick to routines at home, such as a familiar dinner, a regular bedtime and anything else that signals normalcy and security. And reassure the kids verbally as well. “If children understand the man is in custody, then they know they are safe,” advises Dr. Saltz. “Talk about the incredible rarity of an event like this. And let them know that some people develop illnesses of the mind, for which they need treatment and help.”
Also, as a general rule, avoid viewing potentially upsetting coverage with your kids, especially younger ones. Watch the news after they are asleep or at school.
While working on this piece, I realized that my kids had not mentioned the shooting at all. “Have you talked about anything in the news this week at school?” I asked my 10-year-old son casually. He looked up from his book. “No,” he said suspiciously, then a look of recognition crossed his face. “What, you mean the Arizona shootings? I know about them, because they had a moment of silence at a sports game.” No matter how hard you try to keep them in a bubble, the world encroaches.
What about you? Did your children ask questions about the shootings that you didn’t know how to answer? Do you have advice on how to answer these questions? Share your thoughts in the comments below — and keep it civil, just like the president asked us to do Wednesday night in his speech about the shootings.
Christina Kelly is a freelance writer and the former editor of ELLEgirl and ym. She blogs at christinamkelly.blogspot.com.