Cincinnati Children's Blog

Talking to Your Kids About School Shooting Tragedy

The reports coming out of Newtown, Connecticut about the heinous acts that occurred today at Sandy Hook Elementary School will undoubtedly raise intense emotions for parents across our country and around the world. During the next few days though, it is important that we parents also stay aware of our kids’ emotional well-being.

This afternoon, Dr. David Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Cincinnati Children’s provided the following tips to help adults talk with children about the shooting.

– Talk about the event with your child. Silence isn’t comforting in crisis situations and suggests that what has occurred is too horrible to even speak of. After a major crisis, even very young children have likely already heard what has happened – but they may not understand what it means.

– Start a conversation by asking your child what he or she has already heard about the events and what questions or concerns they have. Listen for misinformation, misconceptions and any underlying fears or concerns. If the child expresses worries, sadness or fears, tell them what adults are doing to keep them safe but don’t provide false reassurance or dismiss their concerns. Help them identify ways to cope with difficult feelings.

– Minimize your child’s exposure to media (television, radio, print, internet, social media) and if they do watch, consider recording, screening and watching with them. The aftermath of a crisis is a good time to disconnect from all media and sit down together and talk as a family.

– Encourage your child to ask questions now and in the future, and make sure you answer their questions directly. Like adults, children are better able to cope with a crisis if they feel they understand it. Question-and-answer exchanges provide you with the opportunity to offer support as your child begins to understand the crisis and the response to it.

– Share your personal feelings about the shooting with your child and tell them how you are dealing with your concerns, sadness, or other difficult feelings. If you feel overwhelmed and/or hopeless yourself, look for some support from other adults before reaching out to your child. 
– Reassure the child that feeling sad, worried or angry is okay. Let your child know that it is all right to be upset about something bad that happened. 
– Don’t feel obligated to give a reason for what happened. It is okay to tell your child that you don’t know why such a crime was committed.

Dr. Schonfeld also recommended that parents not hesitate to contact a family pediatrician if there are concerns about a child’s behavior or level of grief related to today’s school shooting. Situations do arise where you need some back up and it’s important to make that call.

For additional information on how to help your children cope with crises or disasters, please visit the website for the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and victims affected by the tragedy today at Sandy Hook Elementary. Countless families will have incredibly difficult conversations this evening about loss that no family should ever have to endure.


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