How to Help Children Cope After a Shooting #ctshooting

(Guest post by Margie Bird, director of the American Psychological Association’s Disaster Response Network.)


News is breaking about a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. There is a lot that we don’t yet know about the incident. But there is no doubt that parents and children may be feeling worried or on edge, or are concerned about their own safety.

Don’t be afraid to talk about it

While a parent’s first instinct may be to shield their child from news and avoid talking about it, children will have questions and may be concerned. They need reassurance that someone is listening. Talking with children using age-appropriate language is the first step to help them feel safe and begin to cope with the events occurring around them.

What you talk about and how you say it does depend on their age, but all children need to be able to know you are there listening to them.

“Consider sharing your feelings about what happened in Connecticut with your child or teen at a level they can understand,” says Dr. Robin Gurwitch, a psychologist and researcher who has studied children and trauma. “Parents may express sadness, worry and empathy for the victims and their families. You may share some anxiety, but it is important for you to also share with your child or teen ideas for coping with difficult situations like this tragedy.”

Assure them that you are OK, and you are there for them.

Children will mirror how you respond

Children look to adults on how to behave and respond, she says. If you want your children to build resilience and find healthy ways to cope with their feelings, it’s important you do so.

“Your positive statements about the response by school personnel, law enforcement, and other first responders to help so many victims can help your child or teen see positive things in the midst of such a horrific event,” Dr. Gurwitch says.

How to help a child cope

APA worked with psychologists to develop a tip sheet for parents on how to help their children manage distress after a shooting.

Here are some highlights of those tips:

  • Talk with your child.
  • Keep home a safe place.
  • Watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety.
  • Take “news breaks.”
  • Take care of yourself.

Other resources and tips

Here are other resources for adults and children that may be useful in helping children–and adults–work through feelings related to the shooting.

Disaster Distress Hotline

Listen, Protect, Connect – Psychological First Aid for Teacher & Students (PDF)

Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event – a guide for parents, caregivers, and teachers (PDF)

Helpful Hints for School Emergency Management: Psychological First Aid  for Students and Teachers: Listen, Protect, Connect – Model & Teach (PDF)

Explaining the News to Our Kids

After a Loved One Dies – how children grieve and how parents and other adults can support them (PDF)

School Crisis Guide: Help and Healing in a Time of Crisis

The Connecticut School Shooting: How to Help Children Cope With Frightening News Child Mind Institute

The Road to Resilience

School Shootings: How to talk with kids about unthinkable tragedy

Talking With Children About the Connecticut School Shooting


Margie Bird is the director of APA’s Disaster Response Network, a program for psychologists to help communities prepare for, respond to and recover from disaster.  Read more about how psychologists help at disasters.

Photo by lindsayshaver (via Flickr)




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5 Responses to “How to Help Children Cope After a Shooting #ctshooting”

  1. Camel Spider   August 6, 2013 at 8:33 am

    “Talk with your child.” Thats probably the most important part

  2. Becky   July 25, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Hi, at what age is it ok to begin talking about it? What about death in general? I have a 3 year old who comes home from preschool saying ‘You’re going to die now’. This just seems so young?

  3. Gayle   June 25, 2013 at 11:45 am

    After the elementary school shooting last year my son’s school stepped up their safety procedures and I’m glad that they were pro-active. As a parent though, you never stop worrying.

  4. ymyb   December 14, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    Thank you, Nancy and Child Mind Institute. Will be happy to share your post in the resources above.

  5. Nancy   December 14, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    The Connecticut School Shooting: How to Help Children Cope With Frightening News

    What parents can do to aid kids in processing grief and fear in a healthy way