(NEW YORK) — Traumatic events such as the deadly shooting at a Connecticut elementary school on Friday, can affect children and adults in different ways.
Adults often gorge on media images — trying to glean facts, gain perspective, to make sense out of a senseless event.
But for children, it can have the opposite effect.
After the deadly rampage at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., psychologists and pediatricians are strongly urging parents to shield their school-age children from too much exposure to the news.
“For really young children, they can be confused and think that this is happening over and over and over again,” said Jamie Howard, a clinical child psychologist and trauma expert at the Child Mind Institute in New York. “They don’t necessarily know that it’s on a loop, And that would be really scary.
“For older kids who are around 8, 9, 10, they might sort of be inundated with anxiety and people’s fear and people’s stress,” Howard said, “and it could overwhelm their capacity to cope.”
Elementary school is supposed to be a safe, innocent place, but the Sandy Hook shooting shatters that notion for parents.
If children are old enough to ask questions, instead of talking to the kids, parents are advised to try just listening.
“Start by asking them: What do you know? What are you feeling?” Howard said. “Ask open-ended questions so that you can start from there. A lot of times we think they want to know lots and lots of information that adults want to know. But children don’t necessarily have the same questions or have the same needs.”
When they do ask questions, parents shouldn’t hide their emotions — but experts warn parents to try not to be overly emotional in front kids because they get their cues from grown-ups.
“We look to grown-ups to interpret situations for us,” Howard said. “It’s called social referencing. It’s what kids do. So we are all sort of being watched. And kids are looking to us to let them know: How should we be reacting to this?”
It’s understandable that parents are emotional, but Howard suggests grown-ups should share our sadness and our fears with other adults and not let children eavesdrop on those conversations.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Brianna Owczarzak and Rachel McCrary, CNN
Meera Senthilingam, CNN