Connective Parenting Offers Thoughts to Worried Parents on School Shootings

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In the wake of the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, parents worldwide have renewed fear for their children’s safety. Parents and children can muster strength through the many caring, loving helpers around them.

The answer does not lie in having the "right" answer. It lies in relationship, genuine caring, and sincere empathy.

Out of an abundance of advice on the internet, the most helpful may be words of Mr. Rogers.

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world."

From the families of the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School to families all over the world—parents must know there are helpers all around.

Parents are their children’s helpers—but not the only one. A helper does not have to have the answers. No one does. Parents should do for their children what they would like done for them. Listen, understand their confusion and fear, their questioning, their possible and sudden abhorrent behaviors. Patience, kindness, compassion. It must start with self-compassion.

When a parent naturally dips into fear—of hopelessness, of inadequacy to protect her children "forever and ever", of not knowing how to calm her child’s distress, of not being able to fix this, of not being able to trust—she can go to her helpers. Family members, friends, and professionals who show compassion for fear and worry and do not preach that there is nothing to worry about are a parent’s helpers.

When fears are off-loaded, calm is more accessible. For children to feel safe, they need their parent’s calmness and confidence. Not blind confidence that nothing will ever happen to them—but as Connective Parenting teaches: confidence in the family’s strong relationships and solid home base; confidence that their children feel loved, important, and heard; confidence in the power of love.

The answer does not lie in having the "right" answer. It lies in relationship, genuine caring, and sincere empathy.

Some suggestions for worried parents:

  • Find your helper with a shoulder to cry on, to scream into, to dump fears onto without unsolicited advice.
  • Allow your child to do the same with you.
  • Watch for unusual behavior, aggression, problems sleeping or eating. Understand that difficult behaviors evolve from difficult emotions. Be a listener for those emotions even when they cannot be expressed.
  • Do not allow the inability to assuage children’s fears to fuel impatience and anger.
  • Be honest. Say, “I don’t know” when that is the truth.
  • Do not think you have to make sense of it for your child.
  • Be aware of projecting your fears and needs onto your child.
  • Never tell children there’s nothing to be afraid of. Never belittle their fears.
  • Repair any morning arguments with a hug and an “I love you more than anything in life” before they leave for school.
  • Make sure your children know who their helpers are. Make a list with your child of all the good, caring people in their lives—at school, home, stores, including police and firemen.
  • Point out helpers as you go through the day. “There’s someone you can always go to if anything happens.”
  • When you go to crowded places with your children, make sure to pick out a meeting place in case of separation.

Very young children should be protected from information. If they are not, reassure them of their safety, “You are safe. Mommy and Daddy’s job is to keep you safe. It is also our job to make sure you are always with people who keep you safe.”

When a child asks about tragedy, first find out what they know. Answer questions as truthfully as you can to insure your child’s trust in you. “You’re right, I cannot promise I will live forever. What I can promise is that I will love you forever and take the best care of you and of myself I possibly can.”

Parents do not serve their children by avoiding difficult conversations and emotions about bad things happening. Children feel more confident when they know what they can do.

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Bonnie Harris
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