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Tips to help kids feel safe returning to school

What to say to make children feel secure as they head back to class this week.

By Britt Olson MSN Living Editor Dec 16, 2012 11:57PM

“Unspeakable” and “senseless” are two adjectives that surface repeatedly in the press following Friday’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Such words seem to approach the ineffable dissonance we experience as we struggle to comprehend this tragedy.

For parents with children returning to school this week, remaining mute is not an option. Adults must speak to their children about this violent event. They must attempt to make them feel safe at school.

School DesksSadly, this won’t be the first time many parents broach a horrific topic with their kids. The shooting in Aurora, Colo., the death toll in Chicago and the killing of Trayvon Martin provided other opportunities for such family discussions this year.

Child psychologists and parenting experts encourage adults to be honest about the events, without overexposing children to the grim details. Do not have the news on nonstop. Ask your children if they know about incident. Assure them that it is over. How do they feel about it? What are their concerns?

Protect your children’s sense of security by assuring them that this is an isolated occurrence. School violence is actually declining, according to David Finkelhor, professor of sociology and director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. “It’s a vanishingly rare occurrence, and schools are still the safest places kids can hang out in terms of violence,” he told Reuters.

Do not lie to your kids, however. You need to maintain their trust and confidence. “To say this would never happen to you, I don’t think that is reasonable, ” said Dr. Michael Brody, a child psychiatrist and chairman of the Television and Media Committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Now may be a good time to address your children’s exposure to media. Ask them what they watch on television. Inquire about which video games they play. Although viewed media and actual violence are not strongly correlative, you should know what your children watch and do.

If you have teenage children, speak to them about social media. Be certain that they are not looking up more grisly details about the event on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook. Also be aware that many of these sites can be accessed on their smartphones.

Speak to your older children about school emergency protocols and evacuation plans. Do not feed their anxieties, however. If the topic seems distressing to them, bring it up at another time.

And do not seem overly affected by the news yourself. Maintain your usual weekly activities. Perhaps even find time to laugh and have fun with your children: bake, watch a video or play outside. The best way to cultivate security is to create a warm, loving environment at home.

Regardless of what you do, remember that grief, fear and anxiety are all natural responses to dramatic incidents like Sandy Hook. If these emotions overwhelm your child and impact her daily life, you should seek a professional counselor.

Some parents and children may find comfort in getting involved. Facebook group “Let Us Live!” formed Saturday morning in the wake of Sandy Hook. The group asks children to “Sketch/paint/write your message to BAN guns!” Parents can mail these pictures to the White House and post photos of them on the Facebook page.

“Let Us Live!” aims to achieve 1,000 works of anti-gun art by Christmas.

Photo: Datacraft Co Ltd/Getty Images

Bing: Get the latest on the shooting.

More from MSN Living:
Connecticut shooting: Parents react with fear, sadness and empathy
When will school shootings stop?
5 tips on talking to kids about scary news
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