Newtown Tragedy: How to talk and be with your children

800px-Family Love"I just want Christmas. I don't want to die," said a child huddling in a locked bathroom with her teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton CT during the tragic shooting today that killed 27 people include 20 children. *re pix

Here are some suggestions about how to care for your own children today and in the coming weeks as the depth of this horrific event take hold of our hearts and psyches.

First, be clear that you are the adult caretaker of your child.  Your top priority is to keep your child safe, mind, body and soul. Emotions can be overwhelming today.  Your relief that your child is safe can flood you.

Holding feeling and bearing your feelings is the great challenge for people with eating disorders and throughout recovery. Today you can share your feelings with your child, but in a gentle way that is caring for them. Find your own way to feel and express your big feelings for your own soothing and relief. Those feelings may be overwhelming to your child.

If your child is nine or under, stop TV viewing. Yes, children will want to watch Christmas TV shows. But you cannot predict when a news bulletin will interrupt a program. Videos, photos, commentators or even someone having an emotional breakdown, will pepper the airwaves. Children need to be shielded from this.

With your child, if she is under seven it's best to keep her oblivious of this event if you can.
If he or she is older, then let her know:

  1. You are safe.
  2. I and many adults work to keep you safe.
  3. A very sad and scary thing happened. We all feel sad and frightened. But they stopped the bad guy. He won't hurt any more people.
  4. Love comes to you from family, friends, teachers and community. Many people are looking out for you.
  5. Bad things happen in this world.
  6. Let them talk about their feelings and what they think. Don't press them. Just listen.
  7. Maybe we could write a letter or draw a picture to help.We could send something to children or teachers or parents from the Sandy Hook School.
  8. Perhaps bring in a professional mental health counselor for your child and/or you and/or the whole family.
  9. Give your child his or her favorite loving touches throughout the day and in the coming days, i.e. gentle loving hugs, running fingers through hair, cheek presses, etc.

Letting the people touched by this tragedy know you care helps the children feel empowered in a dis-empowering grief situation. It will probably help you too. You can write and draw with your child and send your creations  to Sandy Hook Elementary too. 

Please do not clutch your children to your chest with sobs of relief.  It will only frighten them more. But it's okay to hug them, maybe a little tighter, tonight.

And let your child know what it is so easy to share and know today:  You love your child. Your child is a precious gift in your life.  You treasure him, delight in him and dedicate yourself to his health, safety, learning, and well being. 

Please share your thoughts, experiences and feelings here.  I don't think there's a person in this country who isn't suffering from grief today. You can share big feelings here.

*P.S. This picture is not from Sandy Hook. It's a picture I thought would be particularly meaningful today.

Here's a list excellent resources about talking with children about tragedies, complied by high school teacher, Larry Ferlazzo. 


0 # making sense of it allKymL 2012-12-14 20:34
Today I've seen several articles about how to talk to your children after this event, and Tuesdays event at the shopping mall here in Portland and I've realized some things tonight.  

First I realized how hard it is to feel safe when you can't make sense of it.  As an adult I can put my knowledge of satistics to work and add to my level of safety (although Tuesday's event was close to home and my middle daughter was on her way there when something told her it wasn't a good time to go), but a child doesn't get that. 

Second thing I realized tonight was that I've heard many timesthat when a child can't make sense of it, they tend to blame themself, and this weeks events have me thinking about my childhood events of sexual abuse.  At a candle light ceremoy tonight I re-lived my past confusion in trying to make sense of it; my tears went from just the children killed today to all the children, including little Kimmie, who have felt that confusion and fear of the world being an unsafe place.  

As badly as I as an adult want to know why and how this week's events occured so I can make the world safe for all the children in my life, I can begin to tap into the even greater need for a child who feels much less in control of their enviorment, must be feeling.  I have a new greater understanding of what little Kimmie must have been feeling during those times of abuse.  

Having this awareness tonight I think I'm feeling more compassion towards myself and I better understand why I felt the need to do self-distructive behaviors (such as my ED) to try to gain some control over those feelings.

Tonight I decided to take many of things Joanna and others have suggested for children and apply them to myself.  Before going to the candle light ceremony I went to visit the town's holiday tree and watched the children going to see Santa.  I also listened to wonderful music some teenagers were playing on the corner (looked they belonged to a school band) to make money.  I gave money  to them in hopes that they would feel a better connection to their community (adults caring for them).  I have to wonder if this week's young shooters' lives would have been different if they felt a better connection.  

I'm not sure if my words make sense, but I felt I had to try to express myself.  It's been a very hard week!  If you young children in your care, please sow them extra love and protect them!! 
0 # haven't been able to watch tv todaymylifex2 2012-12-14 21:00
I was at work today when the news of Sandy Hook came across my computer. At the time I first saw it seven children had been killed. As the death toll mounted I felt myself become very saddened as I myself have two children, one is a kindergartner. I can't imagine losing either of my kids.  When I look at my 5 year old as she sleeps here next to me, I can't imagine losing her like that, losing her at all. She is innocent, naive.  I hurt for those precious children as I can only imagine how horrified they were. I am grieving for the souls of those that died.  I feel for the children and the post traumatic stress that they  will likely encounter from this event. To suddenly have your safety and security ripped out from underneath of you is so  unfair. I have not been able to bring myself to watch ANY news coverage of this today. It's all just too much. I pray for the families and the community of Newton, Connecticut.
0 # Sparing myself the detailsshh 2012-12-15 14:51

Call it a type of self-care if you will, but I have made a point of not listening/watching/reading about anything more than the absolute basics of this tragedy.

It's not that I don't care, it's not that my heart doesn't go out to those families who have lost love ones or who are trying to support those who have lost love ones, but I know just how sensitive I am to this kind of thing, and just how deeply it will affect me if I watch all the heartbreaking footage.

I had a hard enough time dealing with the suicide of Jacintha Saldanha recently, keep bursting into tears all the time, and I don't want to be that affected again so soon - it's not fair on my children (or myself) when I am like that....not that anything about this tragedy is "fair"

What I've learned in therapy is that I just am a very sensitive person... and that is often a blessing, but sometimes has a down side too.

The people of Newton are in my thoughts now, and will be over the whole festive season -  but I am learning how to care for myself too

0 # I agreeKymL 2012-12-15 15:19
I agree Shh and Tracy, I have read enough to know what happened and I'm avoiding details.  My sensitive side is being triggered and my health can't take it.  It is self-care and it's needed for our sakes and those around us.  My prayers go to famiies in newtown and if a way to hepl them out comes up, I'll do my best to participate.

Today I'm sewing my youngest grandson's solstice stocking!!  Everyone gets one that repersent them and he was too young last year for me to decide how it should look. This year I decided to make it with monkey and banana fabric and monkey head and banana buttons!  Just the fun my wounded heart needed today!
0 # Heavy heart and eyesPTC 2012-12-15 17:39
I was driving in my car, about 40 miles from Newtown, when I heard the news on the radio.  At first it was 1 child and 1 adult killed, 30 minutes later, by the time I got to my house, it was 26 dead.  I was so sad when it was just 2 people, then when I turned on the TV and saw it was way more than that, I was devasted.  I've been watching the coverage whenever I'm home.  My eyes feel like saturated clouds, waiting to just pour rain.  My eyes have filled up several times today and yesterday, random times, like while I was at the gym, or when I walked into Walmart and saw Santa spreading Christmas cheer.  I know it's his job, but I kept thinking, "how can people be happy right now?"  I'm just so sad.  I don't know if this is affecting me moreso than it should or if this is normal.  I don't know why it's so sad for me, besides the obvious tragedy that occured.  Is it because I was born and raised in CT and lived there for 30 years before moving to NYC?  Is it because my town is a small town, just like Newtown, so I can related and imagine it?  I don't know.  All I know is that I'm deeply saddened and I feel so horrible for these families.  I don't know how this is going to effect my eating, and I kind of don't care.  I don't care if I end up not eating.  I feel like thinking about my ED is the last thing I need to do right now, and the last thing I want to do.  I just am putting it on the back burner, which might mean eating less than I should.
0 # sadnessmylifex2 2012-12-15 20:35
I see a common theme hear among many of us - that we tried to avoid hearing or seeing too much of this tragedy as it unfolded.  A day later, I am still not watching any news, and the only updates I receive are what I see on the computer (and I read very little of that).  Our pastor is going to do a special service tomorrow and include a special communion time.  I doubt I will be able to avoid it then.  I think it will be a healthy thing for me to listen and not distance myself any longer. One thing that I have done with tragedies in my life, is to avoid and dissociate myself from the pain of the trauma.  As I work thru this type of response to trauma with my therapist, I think she would agree that (for me) continuing to repress my grief over this situation is very damaging. 
PTC I can understand how being so geographically close to Newton poses an even bigger response to your psyche.  I live about 4 hours from Va. Tech and I knew students who went there when the big shooting happened there a few years ago.  It hits really close to home, doesn't it?  I am sorry it is affecting you the way that it is. I hope that you find a way to deal with this along with the rest of us. Hang in there!
0 # Thanks TracyPTC 2012-12-16 05:15
Thanks Tracy.  A neighbor who I grew up with, and later ended up working with, moved to Newtown and his two children were in that school.  Fortunately they survived.  I can't imagine the mental impact this will have on them.  It just gets sadder now, watching parents speak out, and seeing the children's faces.
Laura R
0 # horrorLaura R 2012-12-16 08:07
It's hard to have words for something this horrible. I keep thinking, why children and how could someone do this.

I'm glad to see that everyone is working on self care. I haven't been able to limit my exposure too much because it's all over all the social media so instead I'm trying to make sure that I do some restorative things like watch something that makes me laugh now and then or play with the cats.

PTC - eating IS really hard with big feelings like this. I'm trying to tell myself that one way that I can practice gratitude that my little nephews and all my loved ones are all safe is to eat and not cause them worry. It's a little guilt based which goes along with how I grew up but I figure if it motivates me to eat right now, no harm done. 

Kym - the little kid part of me felt very very scared and unsafe when I first heard the news too. I haven't connected all the dots yet on where that comes from. Oh and I LOVE that you are making solstice stockings. That's awesome :-)
0 # Addressing the question: how could this happen?pinkjoanna 2012-12-16 12:18
It's so good to read your sharings. Some of us responded as the powerless child.  Some of us responded as the adult who wished she were there to stop it - as if anyone could have. Some of us responded as the parent,feeling that it was or could have been our own child. 

Some of us distanced ourselves from the story because it was too horrific to tolerate.  Some will remain distant.  Others will let small amounts of knowledge to come in as they develop tolerance.

Many are exploring their feelings and learning how to care for themselves, honor and protect themselves better than they have in the past.  Many are inspired to be more appreciate of the child within their psyche as well as  the flesh and blood children in their lives.

I was so grateful and appreciative of my life yesterday when having a full day of cuddles, Harry Potter, art making, dancing and gingerbread house making with the 6 and 8 year olds in my life.
Watching them in a group of other adorable children last night dancing the Nutcracker was joyous with a back burner feeling of heartbreak for the families who lost their irreplacable girls and boys.

Today I saw this article, this magnificent, courageous, generous gift and challenge that shows us a perspective from a different kind of parent, a parent who fears her son could join the ranks of the shooters.  To expand your heart, your capacity to feel and empathize and to address the question, "How could this happen?" I invite you to read this article:  Oh my God, don't miss this fantastic, courageous, moving and informative sharing - a needed gift to us all.


0 # very movingshh 2012-12-16 14:42

I just read this article on your facebook post Joanna... it made me cry!I have a friend who already lives in fear of her 6 year old son with special needs, his condition means that he is bigger than average for his age, and wears the clothes of a child twice his age, he is often very violent and overpowers her when her husband is at work, even when they two of them are present they struggle to take control in those situations... she fears what will happen as he gets older, he has so many professionals working to try to help him, but it is like his is already "beyond the system", certain teams aready cannot work with him because of the dangers of his unpredictable aggression and violence.

When I read that article, it just made it hit home how her, and her son's future may look...

...I find it quite heartbreaking

But who knows the answers? How do we provide for these children and their families? Are things ever likely to change?



0 # very moving and how we work for changepinkjoanna 2012-12-16 14:59
Dear Shhh and all readers on this site,

You ask, "How do we provide for these children and their families? Are things ever likely to change?"

I don't know the answer to the first question except that it will involve community recognition of the issues and coordinated effort to create affordable environments for them.

The second question I answer with a resounding, yes!  People were dying of AIDs in droves. They live much longer now. Same for women with breast cancer.  Polio is on the run.  The bubonic plague is a terrifying title, but the actual illness can be treated.

This website exists because I believe wholeheartedly in my yes.  People recover from eating disorders.

Not only do they recover, but they discover untapped resources within themselves that can improve their lives and the lives of other people.

Recovery is about so much more than ending an eating disorder.  It really means getting better: getting better as a human being, as a talent, as a participant in the affairs of the world.

The more healing and health we can bring to ourselves and each other, the more creativity, clear thinking, compassion and insight we can bring to the problems that face our generation.  And that's where the solutions lie.

It's not about calories, food choices, weight levels, appearance or bone density.  It's about bringing ourselves up to optimum as human beings so we can live a rich full life and bring new awareness, intelligence and perspectives to problems that have eluded us in the past.  We can do that. We are doing that.  And as we do this, terrible situations improve. The situations improve because we improve.
0 # A "yes" with Joanna!KymL 2012-12-16 15:20

I so agree with you Joanna.  When we look at the problems it seems so over-whelming but if we each do something in our own little corner of the world, I have to believe it will make a change. 

Without Joanna having an ED she wouldn't be touching our lives the way she does.  Without my ED I wouldn't have discovered the healing power of NIA and I know by bringing NIA to others, their lives wouldn't be the same.  Without my Sexual abuse I wouldn't have helped start a survivors group here and every week we have new women who share how much it means to them!

Without struggles and recovery I'd still be a zombie living day to day without hope.  Those of us who have lived through our own horrible situations have been given the gift of a new life and I believe it's our privledge and duty to share that gift with others.

I read your article Joanna, and I know for my daughter who has two boys with autism, she get a lot of support as well as practicle advice from other parents of children with autism.  I don't know if this already happens, or maybe the fear and shame prevents parents of children who seem violent from getting together, but it seems honest, heart felt articles like this one could be a start of speaking out about the problem.  It doesn't work for us to think, "well, my children are Ok so i don't have to worry about the violent boy down the street and his parent's struggle to raise his safely."  It is all our problems and the events like this last week, prove it.  It takes a village to raise a child because some of these kids need all the help they can get! 


0 # articlemylifex2 2012-12-16 21:16
In my line of work I deal with exactly the scenario described in this article. It is so hard to watch situations like this line up in such a predictable pattern. 

I have been guilty of telling parents to turn their children in to the police, to call 911 when the child gets violent, to press charges.  Because sometimes that is the only way to keep the family safe, and to keep the child safe from himself and innocent people. 

I do believe that many of these children's lives are disrupted by the chemical imbalances of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.  But I also believe that many children are affected by the breakdown of the family.

I see so many young males who have no memory of a father, or their father is in jail.  Their mother works to provide while the child roams the streets and finds ways to keep busy, many times getting into trouble.  Then there is abuse and trauma, neglect, bullying, that all lend to the possiblity of a person becoming violent, especially if experienced at a young age. 

I agree with Kym - it does take a village to raise a child.  I think that more funding needs to be available for community groups like boys and girls clubs, for community mental health support, for parenting classes, support groups and public education of mental illness and personality disorders.

Public Service Announcements would be a good place to get the community talking about what they can do to get such things started in their neighborhoods.  Tightened security on our campuses, with no exception to visitor status. Double check, triple check security systems. I would be willing to pay higher taxes in my community for school safety improvements.

Parents have to stay in tune with their children. To notice when things aren't right. To not be afraid to ask direct questions. Parents have every right to know what is going on in their kids lives. I believe in privacy, but if your child gives you reason to believe he can't be trusted, parents should do whatever they need to do to find out..

I tell parents that if their child is using drugs, then that child has lost the right to complete privacy.  Room checks, closet checks, under bed checks, coat checks, shoe checks, areas up under side tables.  Parents would be surprised what they would find. 

Sometimes drugs are what changes the childs personality, sometimes children use drugs to try and even out their personality...either way, there is a problem that needs to be addressed. 

Kids should feel they can talk to their parents as well.  That the privelege of conversation can go both ways.   If kids can't talk to their parents they will turn to their peers.  Sometimes that is not good news.

Oh me and my rambling. lol....I shared the article on my facebook page as well.  I think it could get people talking. 
0 # clarificationmylifex2 2012-12-17 01:16
I was reading over this and wanted to clarify something that I wrote.  When I wrote that I am guilty of telling parents to press charges against their children, I meant to explain that this is only after the child has had several situations of extreme acting out.  I did not mean to imply that is the first option for parents.  I believe every child should have  the opportunity to receive mental health treatment. I believe that this mental health treatment should continue even if and when the option is replaced by legal action or incarceration. My point is that some children need the legal intervention.
0 # clarification pluspinkjoanna 2012-12-17 11:11
Dear Tracy,

I inferred that clarification in your original post.  Still, I'm glad you clarified.  Using the word "guilty" created some ambiguity.

I wonder why you use that word when you are making a compassionate and professional decision based on your expertise and concern for everyone involved?

My thoughts are that our health care and punishment systems need a third alternative that falls between.  Yes, a child exhibiting dangerous tendencies the parents cannot manage needs something more than what the parents can offer. 

Yes, the child needs psychological treatment, but it's often not available because of the acting out.
Yes, the child and society needs protection from the acting out, but prison doesn't offer love, compassion and treatment.

Something else that offers the child a place to learn, study, use the talents he/she has to grow and contribute while in a protected 24/7 environment, i.e. protecting both the child and society.

I don't know that such an option exists.  Do you?
0 # optionsmylifex2 2012-12-17 18:46
I guess when I am thinking of children, I am referring to older kids/teens. I am not advocating that a young child (say, of elementary age) go to detention or jail. In my job I have found that the legal system fails the parents more than it fails the kids.  I know parents who have found themselves and their families in danger, called the police, and get little to no intervention.  I have seen kids who believe the rules don't apply to them. I do believe that mentally ill children and adolescents deserve help, love and compassion. I did not mean to imply that they don't.  But the mother in this article is dealing with something more serious than an "acting out" child.

I think the "third option" is residential. But sometimes even that is not secure enough for some of these children.  And unless you have government insurance (medicaid), most parents cannot afford to put their children in one. Private insurance doesn't pay for this. It can take a long time to get your child on medicaid if your family makes more than the 100-200 % poverty rule.

I have seen adolescents who literally have no conscience. These kids are scary. They are machines. Were they born this way? Were they created? Was it a mix of biology and environment? All of the above could be true.  And what becomes the least restrictive environment for them? How many people do they need to harm, bully, threaten for society to know that detention may actually be the most protective place for them? 

I know that in Virgnina, the detention centers offer school, medications, therapy/counseling, and recreation.  Are they ideal? Have bed things happened in such places. Yes. These centers have a long way to go in the area of improvement.  I know kids have been neglected and died in such facilities. But this is where tax dollars for mental health improvement could go a long way.

Now of course, there are some other options for families.  There is in-home therapy. But you need medicaid unless you have money to private pay several hours a day of therapy, several days a week.  These are more like mentoring services, and are more appropriate for preventative care.  Most of these types of workers cannot handle a truly anti-social type of personality, or rather, conduct disorder as it is more appropriately called in a person under 18. 

Our healthcare reform is focusing a lot of attention on preventative care for medical illnesses, women's reproductive decisions and deciding how abortion could be funded.  How about focusing a little more attention on preventing mental health crisis? 

I think I used the word "guilty" because many times parents will get upset with me for suggesting that they press charges. But I do feel that there should be consequences for actions.  Not saying that one shouldn't have a fair chance first.  But parents and authorities need to draw the line somewhere.  If not, we will have more tragedies like the one we had last week.
0 # more on clarificationpinkjoanna 2012-12-17 19:04
Tracy, you were clear, to me, that you were talking about adolescents.  The current situation in terms of caring for such teens who may fit the diagnosis of psychopath seems woefully and dangerously deficient. It must be very hard for parents to come to a realization that their child lacks the capacity for empathy and recognizes no limits when he is blocked, even minimally, from carrying out his intentions.  I admire the professional sturdiness you have developed to speak honestly about reality to these families.

My thought is that we need to create a vision of what would be effective.  It doesn't exist now.
But envisioning it will give direction and purpose to actions. 

We certainly know what doesn't work.  We know the financial situation that makes even what doesn't work out of reach.

But if we start with a clear image of what can work or has a good chance of working, then we as a community can build toward it.

I suppose, first, we have to make clear what "working" means.  Depending on the severity of the teen's mental and emotional constitution, that can vary from full recovery through to a lifetime of severe containment.

On the vision list for the third option I would include that it be a place supplying:

1.    Safety for child, parents and all in the proximity of both.
2.    Strong holding environment, physical and emotional,  that offers education and alternatives to   current behaviors.
3,    Regular mindfulness practices (which could be helpful for those not lost in psychopathology)
4.    Opportunity to use intelligence, creativity and talents in meaningful ways while restricted from access to greater community.
5.    A natural environment with opportunity to get close to nature.

This is what I'd like to see in the now non existent third option secure residential setting,
staffed by a wide range of highly qualified professionals.

Personally, I always wonder why the public and the politicians balk at the high cost of things.  No matter how high the cost, prevention turns out to be much cheaper than the expensive devastation caused by lack of prevention.
0 # great visionmylifex2 2012-12-17 19:46
I agree with what you have to say. I think we are on a similar "thinking" path. A common problem is this "wide range of qualified professionals".  I can say from experience that hospitals, residential centers, group homes, detention centers, etc., are all running on minimal staff and maximum stress.  That is one of the issues I have with my job. I have gotten thrown across a room by a psychotic patient, because I was working a night shift alone with only a tech.
Do you think anything changed? No.

I work with a caseload of 14 Axis II adults everyday.  If one knows anything about how these patients operate, one patient could take up your whole day...along with their families.  And the "system " is so bent on documentation of this and that, there is no time for patient interaction, counseling, or intervention anyway. And it's all so insurance driven...patients have no time to get better, get grounded, before they are pushed back out into the stress that brought them in.  If they have no insurance, it can take up to 6 weeks to get in with a psychiatrist IF I set them up in the hospital.  They can't afford their meds, and we can only give 14 days where I see the problem...

so prevention has to be KEY. funding for prevention. 

I do like your vision.  I can just tell you, social workers are not the greatest paid - even licensed.  It is hard to get good staff in a bad environment with poor pay. (or maybe i don't have to tell you ).  :-)
and yes, are we the only two people who realize that prevention is cheaper than events caused by lack thereof? 

good conversation, Joanna.
0 # vision and costspinkjoanna 2012-12-17 21:01
Oh, no!  Do you now refuse to work a night shift alone with just a tech?  Day shift too?  Please say yes.

Sounds like the first task (as always) is to change the way people think.  In this instance, change how people think about cost/benefit in terms of mental health.  We still working on the cost/benefit of education thinking.

It takes time and concentrated effort to change thinking, but it can be done. It will be done because we are not the only people who think this way.  :-)
0 # working alonemylifex2 2012-12-19 06:27
I no longer work in the capacity of that shift.  Yes, the people in that office still work with just one counselor and one tech on night shift. It is very dangerous. One of the guys who still works that shift had his femur broken a few years ago and had to have surgery, and was out of work over a month.  Another colleague had her foot broken some years back.  We do the best we can to keep safe.  The unit I work on now is far better staffed, and the patients are rarely violent.  I think the biggest thing that has happened to me on this unit is having a couch thrown in my direction, and a sugar caddy thrown at me.

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