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Hi and welcome to Ask Missy Mondays where I respond to a question from readers. Today’s question is in response to the horrific events that took place on Friday in Newtown, Connecticut.

Words cannot express the horror that we all have about the event. As teachers, educators, behavior analysts, and parents, we are all hurting, confused, and want to know what we can do to prevent this from happening again.

A long-time reader wrote:

“Missy, what should I tell my child? How can I explain something to my child that I do not understand myself?”

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that not one answer is not appropriate for every child. Each parent needs to examine the needs of each child separately and determine what is appropriate to tell each one.

Children with ASD

If your child has ASD, it may not be necessary to tell him/her what has happened. Several parents on my case load have already made the decision not to tell their children. This will require that you shield them from the news, social media, and the internet. This is not an easy task. Norm and I chose to tell the girls but we have prevented them from viewing news and social media. However, just yesterday we were watching football and the news broke in to show a church being evacuated.

Children of All Ages with Anxiety

This group of children will be really vulnerable to this incident. They may worry if it will happen to them. They may spend inordinate amounts of time trying to find images or they may be visualizing the imagery in their heads. This group of children will need extra parental support and reassurance. These kids need to know that they are safe.

  1. Continue to give them the verbal, emotional, and physical support that they need.
  2. Limit access to television and social media as one way of preventing them from seeing things that they will “run wild with” in their minds.
  3. Be sure to answer their questions; but do not let them perseverate on the topic.
  4. If you notice that your child is quiet, sullen, or withdrawn, be sure to work through exercises designed to prevent children from worrying too much.

Young Children

If your child is under the age of 8, you may also choose to keep this horrific incident from them. Again, you will need to shield them from all media sources. As mentioned previously, you will have to make sure that their peers do not know about the incident.

We told our children not to discuss it with other children. We also asked them to tell their friends that they are going to discuss the matter with their parents only.

Children 8-14

This group of children is in a different place developmentally and psychologically. They think they are grown up. However, their cognitive level is not as advanced and that limits their ability to fully comprehend. This group of children will most likely want to discuss the events. Unfortunately, this is all the group that is more likely to believe exaggerated stories. Additionally, this group is also more likely to be connected to social media where strange images have already started to circulate (e.g., the letter written by the kindergarten student while he was in lockdown).

  1. Provide only the basic and necessary facts.
  2. Limit access to media as much as possible during the first couple of weeks.
  3. Answer questions honestly and factually.
  4. Reassure the child that he/she is safe.
  5. Be on the lookout for any behaviors that suggest the child may need additional supports.

Children 14+

This group of children are almost self-sufficient. However, despite their confidence and independence, they will need additional support from adults. Unfortunately, they will not want to admit that they need this support. Thus, adults will need to be on the lookout for signals that indicate the children need assistance.

  1. Provide information when asked.
  2. Ask the child if he/she needs any additional information or support.
  3. Teach the child how to digest television and social media sources.
  4. Review strategies for remaining safe during similar incidents (e.g., where to go if it happens in the mall; what to do if it happens at school)
  5. Be on the lookout for any behaviors that suggest the child may need additional support.

This is surely a difficult time for everyone. I ask that you all keep the families of all those affected in your thoughts and prayers.

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