‘Kids aren’t stupid’ – talk to them

David Freedman, right, kneels with his son Zachary, 9, both of Newtown, Conn., as they visit a sidewalk memorial for the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
David Freedman, right, kneels with his son Zachary, 9, both of Newtown, Conn., as they visit a sidewalk memorial for the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
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It’s the crime which halted the world in one awful ‘what if...’ moment.

What happened in Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut, has reached out to us all.

The small town joins the litany of those with the power to move with a name, Hungerford, Dunblane, Malmo, more, now synonymous with mass shootings, random and otherwise.

That’s the immediacy of media 
today. But there’s one overlooked factor – the empathy of children the world over.

When you’ve got 2006 on your birth certificate others assume they know what is best. For many parents that means protection from the fact that monsters may take human form.

Distraction, diversion. That’s the tack many parents have taken in the aftermath of Sandy Hook. Not hard when most kids have little more than breaking up at the weekend for 
Christmas on their minds.

But is it the right approach? Not 
according to Lancashire’s leading 
psychologist Dr Cary Cooper who says even young children will be aware of what’s happened in America and unsettled by it – unless it’s talked through with loved ones.

“And that falls to parents, not teachers,” he adds. “You can’t wrap them in cotton wool.”

Carnage on a cold, considered and apparently calculated scale, aided by America’s “right” to bear arms, resulted in the slaughter of 20 children and six adults who tried to shield the innocents in their care from the rage of 20 year old Adam Lanza.

It was over within eight minutes. The shooter started with his own mother, Nancy, a teacher at the same school, shot in her own home before the rampage.

It is now the talk of families the world over – an act of collective grieving at the age of the victims. It was the talk of schools, within staffrooms, and beyond to the gates, where parents dropped kids off with a heartfelt hug and collected them with a sense of relief most feel but seldom articulate until reminded of what others have lost.

Abigail, 28, mother of two girls attending primary school in north Fylde, confessed she turned to her own mother for help.

Abigail, who does not want her children identified, explained: “I’d kept what happened from the girls for the weekend. But I left them watching telly in the morning. Usually it’s tuned to a children’s channel but it wasn’t ... so they watched the news.

“And being children they’re interested in other children and when they saw all the faces of those who had died they wanted to know what had happened, and why.

One of my daughters has a friend with the same name as one of the girls who died. She heard President Obama say the name and started watching and listening. ”

Explanations exhausted Abigail’s usual stranger danger warnings. “I found it very difficult. They asked quite detailed questions. Were the children scared, hurt? I called mum because she takes them to Sunday school and can usually come up with something.

“She was dressed and round at our place within 15 minutes. And she only mentioned God once, right at the end.

“She said real life wasn’t like a cartoon and that real children could get hurt. She said it didn’t happen often which is why it was on telly. She told them to say a prayer for the children but if they really wanted to help they should pick one of their toys to give to a children’s charity. They got quite excited about that. And talked about it all the way to school.”

Prof Cooper applauds the Gran’s approach. “It’s a very smart move. It gives them a sense of control. Kids at five, six, are definitely at the age to be aware of what’s happened, and it will make them insecure, so the best thing is to talk about it.

“Parents tend to wrap them up, keep kids away from bad news but that’s not healthy as they could hear about it in a distorted way.

“Children know bad things happen. Parents always communicate that message. Kids aren’t stupid. They know some people aren’t nice. But they know most are. And that’s what stops them becoming paranoid or overly sensitive.”