Cape Ann school and municipal leaders and mental health advisers said parents and guardians should reassure children that they are safe and that the mass killing in Connecticut on Friday was a highly isolated event in a very large world.
Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk, the parent of two school-age children with husband Bill, said her concern as a parent is to give the youngster a holistic and full perspective on the shooting event in Connecticut, which she presumed would be communicated in bits via Twitter, Facebook and the like and thus provide shards of information rather than complex impressions of the events.
“I would ditto everything (Kirk) said,” commented Susan Britt, a Rockport psychotherapist and Times columnist. “One piece I would add: When children come home, parents should bring it up, ask them for information, ask them, ‘what have you heard? How are you feeling?’
“You want to give them a chance to express themselves,” Britt continued. “We can give them the rational (perspective), but feelings are feelings, and this can be pretty scary. Let them know you hear them, that it sounds horrible, that it scares me. Assure them they are safe here.”
Britt continued that putting the incident in full and accurate context was important, that children should know what happened in Connecticut “is very very rare, that there are hundreds of thousands of schools and that something like that happening near them is very, very unlikely.”
Britt added, it is also important for children to know that “anyone who does something similar to what was done in Connecticut is someone who is severely mentally ill, and not a bad person.” The act is heinous, but the person is sick, not bad.
The age of the children determine the approach by elders.
For elementary schoolchildren, contextualizing will be impossible to for young minds to comprehend. For these children, the point of emphasis is reassurance: “This won’t happen here. It happened far, far away, you are safe” is the script Britt recommended. “For children older than 6 to 8 years of age, you can talk to them about probabilities,” she added.
Nancy Sherman, director of bereavement services at Hospice of North Shore, agreed generally with Britt. “With young children,” she said, “it’s more about security and safety. Parents should feel and gauge how much kids want to know. ‘Do you want to talk about it?’ Let them talk about it, explaining and reassuring.’
Sherman said it was important to acknowledge that “a really bad person did a really bad thing, but it’s highly unlikely that anything like that would ever happen to them.”
Parents should do whatever they do to reassure their children, “hugging and touching them, reassuring kids that they are safe,” encouraging every opportunity to let their children express their feelings, and then respond with reassurances.
Richard Gaines may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3456, or email@example.com.