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Talking to Children About the CT Shooting

Friday, December 14, 2012 - 04:03 PM

Children will likely raise questions about Friday's mass school shooting, either at home or in the classroom, and experts stress the importance of conveying to children the rarity of such an event.

"Children really need to know, and this is for both parents and teachers, that they are safe," said Troy Pinkney-Ragsdale, director of the Child Life Program at Bankstreet College of Education. "They're going to see the terror, they're going to see the questions and not be able to comprehend what happened or the scope."

Pinkney-Ragsdale suggested limiting how much television and news coverage children are exposed to over the weekend. Children will likely overhear adults talking, and parents should be mindful of "what is information overload," she said.

Paul Applebaum, director of the Division of Law, Ethics and Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, said there is no one right way for parents to broach the subject with their children, such as speaking to them in a group or individually, as long as the explanation is tailored to children's ages. Applebaum spoke on WNYC, adding that parents should recognize that children will talk to each other as well.

"Nothing you tell the 10-year-old won't be communicated to the younger children," he said.

Teachers should be prepared to continue the conversation on Monday, particularly with older students said Pinkney-Ragsdale. She said it is important for teachers, and parents at home, to "rein in their own emotions so that they can put on a face of calm." Children will pick up on the reactions of their teachers and caregivers, she said.

Pinkney-Ragsdale also warned that, for students affected by storm Sandy, the school shooting could bring up trauma for some children. She said that parents should be on guard if they think that their child is having a problem, and they should ask a school social worker for a referral.

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