Vanessa de la Torre
9:25 PM EST, December 14, 2012
Even the president of the United States cried when addressing the nation Friday about "this heinous crime" in Newtown.
So how are parents supposed to explain the shooting to their children?
Be calm and delicate with the facts, said Julian Ford, a clinical psychologist at the UConn Health Center who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder.
"First thing to remember is that children hear everything," Ford said. "We do want to protect them from graphic details and we don't want to scare them, while at the same time, we don't want to try to pretend that this isn't a very sad event."
Assure children that they are safe and so are their schools, advises the National Association of School Psychologists. "Give simple examples of school safety like reminding children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day."
But also encourage them to express their emotions. With young kids, for example, expression might include drawing or imaginative play. It might take time for them to talk about their feelings, so be patient, the group advises.
Save the Children, a nonprofit based in Westport, also advises caregivers to limit the amount of time children spend watching television coverage. Try to maintain a normal routine, such as bedtime and playdates, while showing sensitivity for the victims' families.
"This is an opportunity to teach your children that we all need to help each other," the group states.
Can't answer a question? It's OK to tell children you don't have all the answers, according to the National Center for PTSD. And when discussing the tragedy, "help children identify good things, such as heroic actions, families who unite and share support, and the assistance offered by people throughout the community."
Often, the simplest words are the most helpful.
"I'm a parent and grandparent, as well as a family therapist," Ford said. "What I'm saying to my kids, and to their kids, is this is a bad thing that reminds us all of how precious our family is ... and how important it is for each of us to be very thoughtful about making sure we're all safe."
* Save the Children: http://www.savethechildren.org/cope
* American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/aftermath.aspx
* National PTA: http://www.pta.org/schoolviolence
* National Association of School Psychologists: http://www.nasponline.org/
* Aetna is opening its employee assistance program to anyone coping with the Newtown tragedy. Behavioral health professionals can offer counseling over the phone at 1-888-238-6232.
* Cigna behavioral health clinicians are available for free phone consultations with residents of Newtown and nearby communities through Dec. 28. Those without Cigna health benefits can call 1-866-912-1687; residents with Cigna can call the number on their insurance ID card.
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