COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - A therapist who works with children and adults who've been through trauma offered advice on Friday on how to approach the conversation about the tragic shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.
Erica Laue is the on-site therapist at TESSA's Safe-house. Children are observant, so she says parents need to talk to their kids about the shooting so they don't hear it first from a classmate or an adult.
"When you're talking to a child the first goal is to say, something really scary happened. Someone went into a school and killed a bunch of children and that's really scary. Let the child react to that, 'Oh that horrifying', and let the child own their reaction. 'You know I can tell this is a really scary news for you but this doesn't happen all the time. This isn't a normal thing which is why children are so scared by that, what do you think?' And let the child start talking," said Laue.
She said parents have to be careful when their talking to their kids - it's a balance between explaining what happened and overwhelming them.
"The first [mistake] would be to deny the reality that this is a scary thing and deny that it could happen anywhere. But again, it's that same balance of saying 'Oh it could happen at anytime and absolutely terrify your child into thinking at any moment someone is going to run into the classroom door and start doing something absolutely vile," said Laue.
She recommends waiting until you can sit down with your child on their level to approach the topic. She said parents shouldn't bring this up in the car and try to keep exposure to the topic at a minimum until you can have a conversation in the right setting.
She also noted children's exposure to the news coverage of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting should be minimal.
"They need the information from you they don't need repeated exposure to traumatic material," said Laue.
Laue stressed that parents need to emphasize to their children that what their feeling is normal. She said children may have nightmares, feel scared or sad, or start to suspect strangers might be armed.
"When we can say to our kids, it's okay to be scared; this is a very scary; this is a very scary thing to happen and we can't predict it. When they hear it's scary but it's consoling to know its okay to be scared by that and it allows them to work through it on their own," said Laue.
John Frizell has a 9-year-old daughter and planned to talk to his daughter after school about the shooting. He said he wasn't sure how he would approach the topic but it was a learning moment for him as a parent.
Frizell planned to spend the afternoon with his daughter doing something fun. But he said first, he would give her a big hug.