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AARP offers tips on talking to children after a tragedy

Today’s tragic shooting at a school in Newtown has left many Connecticut residents, especially parents and grandparents, wondering how to talk about what happened and how to help their kids and grandkids cope with these traumatic events.

AARP’s expert on Family and Caregiving, Amy Goyer, offers the following advice:

“The most important things are to acknowledge what has happened, listen to their fears, reassure them and do whatever it takes to help them feel safe,” according to Ms. Goyer. “Some children won’t be forthright about their fears or discomfort, so observe carefully for any signs of anxiety.

In addition, AARP and The American Humane Society offer these additional tips:

  • Keep an eye on children’s emotional reactions. Talk to children – and just as important – listen to them. Encourage kids to express how they feel and ask if anything is worrying them.
  • Regardless of age, reassure them frequently of their safety and security, and reinforce that you, local officials, and their communities are working to keep them safe. Older children may seem more capable, but can also be affected.
  • Keep your descriptions to children simple and limit their exposure to graphic information. Keep to the basic facts that something bad happened but that they are safe. Use words they can understand and avoid technical details and terms such as “smoke grenades” and “sniper.”
  • Limit their access to television and radio news reports since young children may have trouble processing the enormity of the experience, and sometimes believe that each news report may be a new attack.
  • Be prepared for children to ask if such violence can occur to them. Do not lie but repeat that it is very unlikely and that you are there to keep them safe.
  • Watch for symptoms of stress, including clinginess, stomachaches, headaches, nightmares, trouble eating or sleeping, or changes in behavior.
  • If you are concerned about the way your children are responding, consult your doctor, school counselor or local mental health professional.

Ms. Goyer continued, “Life is tentative, so hug the kids in your life today. Tell them you love them. Be with them. And cherish every day with them.”

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