Helping children understand, cope with tragedy

PHILADELPHIA, PA.; December 17, 2012

Many children in our area are now aware of what happened in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, and are asking questions.

The details of the tragedy, the images on television and online are upsetting to everyone.

However, experts say it is up to parents to reassure your children.

As students in our area headed back to school this morning. Many parents walked beside them with heavy hearts and lingering concerns, after Friday's shooting inside an elementary school in Connecticut.

"It's just terrifying the times we are living in right now, absolutely terrifying," said one parentwho had just dropped off her kids at the Gompers Elementary School in Wynnefield.

Robert Zeitlin, Psy.D., a private and school psychologist with the Philadelphia School District, says the world changed on Friday.

But as we move forward it's vital parents reassure their kids.

For younger children - those under 6 or 7, this can be done with a hug, spending time and continuing your routines.

For older kids, talk to them, answer their questions.

"They're looking for a connection and I think it's important that you spend the time and focus on their needs," Dr. Zeitlin says.

And as we heard from parents today, some kids may ask some difficult questions.

"Questions I can't answer like why did he do it? What was wrong - I can't answer that," said another mother outside Gompers.

Dr. Zeitlin says, "I think it's okay for parents to admit they don't have all the answers."

But he says they should remind kids that schools are safe, adults are there to protect them... And Friday's shooting was extremely rare.

He also recommends controlling how much your kids are seeing and hearing about the shooting.

Details of the tragedy aren't important. Love and reassurance are.

Meanwhile, parents should also take care of themselves, too. Talk to other adults about how you are feeling, and stick to your routines, to help you. Do what you can to heal.

One mother said, "We pray, all we can do is pray."

Kids learn how to deal with crises by watching how their parents and other close adults react.

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