Guest Posting:
5 Ways To Help Your Kids In Times Of Tragedy

Like so many of you, I was at a complete loss yesterday; not only in how to comprehend the events of the Newtown tragedy myself but how to explain it to my own children. My kids, as you know, are teenagers but how does  a parent explain something like this to young children? I asked clinical psychologist Dr. Marcy Rosenzweig Leavitt (who’s a friend and former classmate) ,what parents should do now.

It’s holiday time. Bright lights, carols, shopping, and trips to sit on Santa’s lap should be the focus of the day. Instead we are faced with yet another tragedy involving a shooting at a school. For the next few days your television sets and Internet sites will inundated with photos and stories children being murdered at an elementary school and parents in mourning. It is hard to filter these images from adults, so how do we protect our children from the onslaught of brutal stories while being honest with then about what happened?



Creative Commons/klabs

Most children probably heard about the Newtown, Connecticut shooting before they returned home from school. News travels fast so when they ask about what happened, the best thing to do is to as them what they heard. Kids hear all sorts of things at school so by the time they get home they may be pretty scared or confused. If you ask them what they heard then you can give them an educated, factual answer.


Associated Press

President Obama teared up when he addressed the nation about the Newtown shooting.  As a parent you can model appropriate emotional reaction when speaking with your children about the shooting. If you are scared let them see it. If you want to cry, then cry. This will show your child that grief and fear are appropriate emotions. However, you must also model safety and trust. Children may exhibit anxiety about going to school. They may be fearful that they are not safe there. Let them know that, although bad things happen, they are safe in school. I will often give my clients a small “safety object” that they can keep in their pocket or backpack. If they feel scared during the school day they can hold or touch the object as a reassurance. A picture or favorite small toy will also work well.


Creative Commons/Siwaki

If you feel your child is nervous about being in the classroom, enlist his teacher for help. Come up with a special safety word the night before. It could be something like “turtle.” Let the teacher know that Sally has been scared at school lately  and that you have come up with a special word to let the teacher know that she needs a little extra encouragement. During the day the teacher may use “turtle” to see if Sally is doing all right. It can be seen as a game to the other students so as not to embarrass your child.


Creative Commons/Sylvia Covizt

When children see an incident shown over and over on television it can appear to them as it is happening over and over again. Turn the TV off or change the channel. The onslaught of news is bad for the psyche. This is good advice for adults as well.


Creative Commons/sean dreilinger

People react differently to trauma. Some may show signs immediately and in others it may take a while. A person does not have to be directly involved in an incident to be traumatized by it, i.e. 9/11. With that said, watch your children for signs of stress or fear that may present in the next few days to weeks. You may notice them eating less, having nightmares, clinging to you, not wanting to go to school, crying, or startling unexpectedly. Children experiencing trauma can also become angry and defiant. If you notice these signs speak to the school counselor, psychologist or your pediatrician.



The most important this is to LISTEN to your child. React to them and tonight HUG them. Tell them you love them each and every day.

Fred Rogers said it best:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

Be well.
Marcy Rosenzweig Leavitt

Dr. Marcy Rosenzweig Leavitt, Psy.D, CHT earned her Master in Counseling Psychology and Doctor of Clinical Psychology degrees from Ryokan College. While completing her predoctoral residency she worked with local community mental health associations including Starview Child and Adolescent Services, Portals House, and Goodwill Industries of Southern California. Over the past seven years Dr. Leavitt has worked in a variety of clinical settings and with various populations including veterans, physically/sexually abused children, gifted and talented teens, and at risk families.

Dr. Leavitt specializes in working with children and adolescents,  those diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder and high functioning Autism, ADHD/ADD, Anxiety, and school assessment and IEP advocacy.