Eight Tips on How to Tell Your Kids About Newtown

The flag in front our Tennessee elementary school says it all.

I first learned of the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut from my iPad last Friday. I was lying on the couch nursing a bad case of bronchitis, reading an e-book when the NY Times alert jumped out at me. I checked out various sources online,  flipped on the TV and called my neighbor. Both she and I are parents of elementary school aged sons. We too have children at a K-4 elementary school. We too have a buzz-in security system. We too have children anticipating the excitement of Christmas. Together, we cried and we prayed.  Then I had to think about how to tell my 10 year old son.

I arrived at school a few minutes early Friday, got my visitor’s badge and sat quietly in the back of his classroom. His teacher gave her final Friday announcements to the group of 4th graders surrounding her on the floor as she sat in her special rocking chair. I couldn’t wait to hug my son and head out of school with him safe in my arms and then inside the car. Since both of us were recovering from “bugs” we decided to get a pizza and some Christmas movies and just “hang out” all evening by the Christmas tree. After we got the pizza, as we were driving home, I said very calmly, “I want you to hear this from me and not from the news or anybody else.  A bad guy shot and killed 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school and then he shot himself.” My son, who is a very high-empathy child, responded: “Oh, that is terrible!” Then he and I immediately prayed for the families who had lost loved ones.

And from that point on our normally news-addicted household has been on a news fast. My husband was in complete agreement on this and we catch each other flipping channels and turning over newspapers when my son is nearby.

Here are some tips to help you as you tell your children what happened:

  1. Talk with your spouse– Make sure he/she is on board with your joint communications about this very important issue.
  2. Be calm– Your child will pick up on your anxiety or your calmness. As in any emergency, level heads prevail.
  3. Remember you are their number one news source – Every child is different. You know yours better than anyone and how and what they can handle.
  4. Be honest but brief– Do not go into any gory details. That would be far too much for a child’s young mind to absorb.
  5. Take a news fast– When your child is around keep the TV off or tuned to something else.
  6. Use this time to watch Christmas videos– We’ve watched “The Grinch” several times together as a family already.
  7. Do not feel guilty about celebrating the holidays– (I got this tip from a mental health professional and think it is a good one.) We still must go on with our lives and our children, like all children, are excited about the coming holidays. Let them be kids!
  8. Pray– With your child, let’s all keep praying for those families in Connecticut. And, while we’re at it, let’s pray for our country too.

Do you have other items to add to this list? Then please share them in the comments box below. Thank you and may God bless you and yours this holiday season.


  • Sue Painter says:

    I’ve noticed that with instant communication we get to thinking that what has happened elsewhere is bound and determined to happen to us. I wonder about that. When I was a kid, I might hear that someone got put out of school, or got into trouble with the law, or did a bad thing – it never occured to me (or to my parents) to treat it special or as if the world is scary, dangerous, and that “bad thing” would spread to us. Now it seems like everyone reacts as if it was at THEIR school. I honestly do not know if that is healthy. I realize it’s a totally different world. I think it is a good thing to underplay and stay away from news, not draw your children into it. And be a model for calm and for living without fear, too.

    • maryellen says:

      Sue, you raise an excellent point about the instant accessibility our communications gives us. I think it also terrorizes us for “copy cats” in these instances. Yes, calmness is the way to go.

  • Bill Painter says:

    I think a news fast is good for both the children and the adults. There is way too much wallowing in this and other tragedies by the media that goes beyond reproting. I agree that children will pick up on your emotions and you need to be a positive anchor for them.

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