Experts Advise Parents to Reassure Children, Be Mindful of Exposure to Media Coverage of Conn. Shooting
Brenda Hernadez of Enfield Conn., comforts her daughter Crystal at a makeshift shrine on the Enfield Town Green, Friday evening, December 14, 2012, after a candlelight vigil in Enfield, Conn. The vigil was organized by social media in memory of the school shooting victims in Newtown as residents in Enfield, 70 miles from Newtown, and in through out the state, feel the grief of the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning. (AP Photo/Journal Inquirer, Jim Michaud)
Girls embraces outside St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, which was filled to capacity, during a healing service held in for victims of an elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. A gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
West Lebanon — With the nation reeling from news of a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, adults should comfort their children, reassure them that they’re safe and consider turning off the television, experts in child counseling said yesterday afternoon.
“(Children) need to be reassured that schools are safe places, their school is very safe,” David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, said in an interview with the Valley News yesterday . “And their principals and teachers do a lot to make sure schools are safe, and this is just a very unusual and rare occurrence.”
Dartmouth College Chaplain Richard Crocker offered similar advice to parents whose children may be concerned about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Even those who are geographically removed from a widely-publicized instance of horrific violence are still “absolutely” susceptible to emotional impact, and that includes young people.
“It touches the instinct of care that most of us feel for vulnerable people and particularly children,” Crocker said, “and whether it’s far away or not, if it’s in our society,” we’re likely to feel an emotional response.
“I think what parents first of all always need to do,” he said, “is reassure their children is that they the parents love the children and will take care of them, and tell them that we all want them to be safe, reassure them that we all want them to be safe.”
At the Marion Cross School in Norwich, Principal Bill Hammond spoke to faculty and staff after school to make sure they were aware of the shootings, and he sent home a note to parents that said the school counselor would be available to talk with children if they need help on Monday.
“I prefer to begin these notes with events that inspire, but it’s a sad, sad day in Newtown, Connecticut. I’ll let you gather detailed information from the news stations, but it may be wise to minimize your kids’ exposure to network and print news. Children’s emotional selves are pliable, and news stations tend to perseverate on shocking news. Know that we look out for your children; that we work to keep them safe; that we help them learn in a way that emphasizes joy and curiosity along with hard work,” Hammond wrote.
Rick Dustin-Eichler is principal at Dothan Brook School, a K-5 elementary school in Wilder. The school doesn’t have televisions, and students there were unaware of the shooting during the day yesterday, he said.
By Monday, however, he expects a significant number of the students may have heard about the tragedy. The school staff discussed the incident in a meeting after the school day yesterday and has created a preliminary plan to address students’ concerns by utilizing the school district’s counselors. School officials will reassess Monday morning “based on what happens over the weekend and how our families come in,” he said.
“Whether they’re flipping through the channels or hearing on NPR on the ride home, things come up,” Dustin-Eichler said, adding kids might overhear their parents’ conversations, as well. “The level (of what) kids know will differ, and I’m sure we’ll have some kids who don’t have any exposure.”
Counselors Monday morning will “meet with kids individually, or if whole classes were to have questions, we can meet with them,” Dustin-Eichler said. “We deal a lot with younger kids, we’re a K-5 school. We want to make sure that we’re sensitive to parents and family beliefs around this.”
“This is a big issue. Every family will deal with it in their own way, which is why we’ll try to deal mostly on an individual basis,” Dustin-Eichler added. “If kids are really upset, we’ll be contacting parents and be respectful of parent wishes. We obviously don’t want to ignore it, and kids can have strong feelings about these things, but we want to make sure everyone in a child’s support system is responding in concert.”
Finkelhor, the UNH professor, said parents should also turn off their televisions so that children aren’t overloaded by images of the tragedy.
And if children haven’t heard about the shooting, parents shouldn’t feel obligated to tell their kids what happened, Finkelhor said. If parents think their kids have been exposed to information about the shooting or they’ve been watching the news, then parents might want to broach the topic. But it’s not essential for parents to raise the issue and start a conversation with their child.
“I think most kids will ask questions about this if it’s bothering them,” Finkelhor said.
Lebanon Police were ready to visit city schools Friday if requested, but decided not to alarm students by showing up unannounced, Lebanon Police Capt. Tim Cohen said.
“The little guys in the elementary school, they may not know (yet),” Cohen said. “If the schools wanted us, we’d go, but we didn’t get any calls, so we stayed out of it. We’ll do whatever to help ... it’s pretty brutal.”
Claremont police had squad cars stationed outside each school Friday but did not send officers inside the buildings, Police Chief Alex Scott said.
“Just as a method of creating a bit of comfort, and to have extra eyes and ears,” Scott said. There were no reported problems inside the schools, he said.
President Obama directed that all flags be flown at half-staff until sunset on Tuesday, and both Gov. John Lynch and Gov. Peter Shumlin released statements offering their condolences Friday afternoon.
“Today’s shooting in Connecticut, taking so many innocent lives, is a horrible tragedy,” Lynch said. “On behalf of the people of New Hampshire, our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have been wounded or killed, and to their loved ones.”
Vermont State Police also released a statement Friday afternoon in which Commissioner Keith Flynn offered his condolences.
“During this time of tragedy, it is important to remain vigilant in our public safety efforts and training,” he said. “Public safety officials will continue to work with the Department of Education and schools across Vermont to help ensure the safety and security of our children.”
Dustin-Eichler, the Dothan Brook principal, said his focus would remain on the safety of his students.
“It’s an elementary school not very far away,” he said, “and anytime something like this happens it makes us reflect on what we do as a staff, and it makes us be mindful of how we deal and work with students and parents and how we create a safe learning environment — not just safe in securing the building, but emotionally safe.”
Valley News Staff Writer Maggie Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3220. Staff Writer Sarah Brubeck can be reached 603-727-3223 or email@example.com. Staff Writer Mark Davis contributed to this report.