Talking to your children about the Sandy Hook tragedy

Here are seven simple things parents can do to help their children deal with tragic incidents like this one and open lines of communication when they happen. Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, DC, December 14, 2012 ― Today, parents are welcoming their children home after hearing news of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The most deadly school shooting in U.S. history happened today in the cottage town of Newtown, Connecticut.

A 20-year old gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing the principal, seven other adults, and 18 children in a school that educates kindergarten to fourth graders. His motives are unknown as law enforcement officials try to piece together what happened today. Initial reports said that the gunman had a child in the school. Later reports said that after killing the principal and other administrators, the man entered a kindergarten class where his mother taught, shot and killed her, and then started shooting children there.

As schools nationwide let out by mid afternoon, some older children inevitably heard the news from peers, from listening to the radio, watching TV, reading text messages, or from online media. Parents may want to broach a conversation with their kids, who will probably have some questions and want answers or explanations.

Here are seven simple things parents can do to help their children deal with tragic incidents like Newtown and open up established lines of communication to discuss events like these when they happen:

1. Don’t wait for your children to approach you. Let them know that there is an open line of communication between them and you at all times.

2. Let your children know that they can still trust that most people are decent and behave well in society. But let them know also that once in a while disturbed, violent or ill-intentioned people plan terrible things, and that normal people snap and do things that are morally and legally wrong. Deadly acts of violence and deadly accidents happen every day. That is why each day, you must be grateful for life and be nice to your siblings and other children. Life is a precious gift that we should prize and never take for granted.

3. Listen to your children. Let them guide the conversation, and do not introduce new or unrelated subjects during your chat. Take one tough topic at a time. Discuss it for a predefined time, secluded from distraction, and let them know you are there to follow up afterwards.

4. Make sure that your children understand that bad things happen to good people. People who contract life-threatening diseases, are involved in car accidents, or are victims of horrible acts of violence like today’s did not deserve or do anything to make it happen. You can live an honest life and be good to all those around you, but that won’t prevent bad things from happening to you. Our society sometimes blames victims for their own circumstances. Teach your children that they should not.

5. Pay attention to the messages you bring into your home via TV and radio. It is easy to get caught up watching CNN or listening to news radio as you pick your children up from school. You can partially control their exposure to news about Sandy Hook. If you want to couch the information they may eventually see or have access to in your terms, you have to be proactive: Bring it up, discuss it, and move on.

6. Have an ongoing open and honest conversation with your children about world news and current events, even those that involve violence. You are protecting your children and preparing them to better cope when you make sure  you let them know that bad stuff happens every day to people all around the world. For the most part, they are and will remain safe. Nonetheless, they should always be alert and take note if they ever see something or someone behaving suspiciously and let an adult know. It’s better to be wrong than suspect something, do nothing, and watch bad things unfold as a result.

7. Be reassuring. Encourage follow up questions and validate concerns with open and honest discussion that is age appropriate. 

Sadly, mass shootings are happening on a more frequent basis. Arming children with the knowledge and information database to process the news will help them deal with these reports when they occur.

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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site while authoring her own influential blog which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector.
Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media.
She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups.
She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.

Contact Jeneba Ghatt


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