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WHAT DO YOU SAY TO A CHILD?
Itís affecting all children negatively to hear about religious or racial communities singled out for violence. In our media-saturated world, even the youngest children are aware that their friends and even their parents are being killed. Parents find themselves being asked, ďWhat if it happens to me?Ē

Itís critical for both parents and teachers to recognize that our children are incredibly sensitive to whatís going on. Their first concern is how it affects them. Theyíre also sophisticated enough to know that there is only so much we can do to protect them from such senseless acts. Betsy Schwartz, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Houston and Harris County says, ďEven children old enough to watch news reports of the disaster should have such television viewing limited. Constant repetition should be avoided. One reason these shootings are so traumatic for both children and adults is that we have to face the fact of our vulnerability. Itís something we all share. Thereís nothing we can really do, and any time our physical safety is something you donít have control over, thatís traumatic.Ē

One of the biggest mistakes we can make as parents and educators is not to discuss the issues of global social problems over which we have no control. Adult silence about complex and worrisome issues encourages young people to feel abandoned, to restrict awareness, and to withdraw from the corrective process. In voicing your concern, however, avoid hand wringing and self-indulgent gloom. Express the spiritual beliefs that your family has. Itís perfectly okay to tell you children that we have to prepare as best we can, then put ourselves in Godís hands.

Itís important to recognize that very young children may not be able to verbalize being bothered or upset by the things theyíre hearing and seeing. Be alert to behavioral changes Ė sleep disturbances, irritability, or regression to actions such as thumb-sucking or needing a blanket. Use the same gentle questioning and reassurance that you might have used in discussing the original traumatic event. Children afraid of coming to school or going into other groups can be asked what can be done to make them more confident. For example, children afraid of the dark can be given a flashlight. Itís a simple thing and one the child doesnít usually need for very long. But it puts the child back in control of her world; it enables her to cope.

From Lisa Falkenberg of the Houston Chronicle: ďI just know this: If the monster who used those guns did so with the intent of wreaking devastation or hopelessness or insurmountable despair, he picked the wrong crowd. He picked citizens and neighbors who believe in a thing called perseverance and their friends and family who have witnessed it first-hand. He picked soldiers of the human spirit who donít leave things unfinished, untried, or unopened, who donít leave dreams in the ether. They feel like the rest of us, they fall like the rest of us, they mourn like the rest of us. But they get back up. Somehow or another, if they can, they get back up.Ē

Itís a worthy life philosophy, and one we can be proud to pass on to our children.

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