Talk to kids about Newtown shooting with care, expert says

A Winnipeg family counsellor is urging parents to be careful if they want to talk to their children about Friday's deadly shooting in a Connecticut school.
Winnipeg school officials, family counsellors offer advice for parents on how to talk to their children about the Newtown school shooting. 1:53

A Winnipeg family counsellor is urging parents to be careful if they want to talk to their children about Friday's deadly shooting in a Connecticut school.

Twenty children — all six or seven years old — and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., died after a gunman burst into the building on Friday and opened fire.

The first funeral services for the victims were held on Monday afternoon.

It's considered to be the second-deadliest shooting in U.S. history, behind the Virginia Tech massacre in Blacksburg, Va., in 2007.

News of the shooting hit close to home for some Manitobans when it was revealed that one of the young victims, Ana Marquez-Greene, had previously lived in Winnipeg.

Family counsellor Margriet Stoffman says parents should only talk about the tragedy with their child if the child brings it up.

Even if the topic does not come up in discussion, parents should watch for a change in their child's behaviour that may indicate whether the child has been impacted by news of the shooting, Stoffman said.

"Has the child been withdrawn? Has there been crying more often than not? Looking at mood changes is a good indication of whether or not it's affected them," she said Monday.

Stoffman said if a child brings up the Connecticut school shooting for discussion, parents should delicately approach the topic of death.

"It's always good to talk at the level of kids' understanding. It's good to kind of use their vocabulary rather than our vocabulary," she said.

"We process things a lot differently [than] how kids process things."

School divisions send letters home

A number of school divisions across Manitoba, including the Pembina Trails School Division in Winnipeg, are sending letters home to parents on Monday with advice on how to deal with traumatic situations with their children.

The letter by Lawrence Lussier, the superintendent of education at Pembina Trails, urges parents to maintain a normal routine at home, but to also make time to speak to their children.

The letter also says parents can encourage their children to write a poem or draw a picture if they want to express feelings of compassion.

In their letters home, school divisions are also outlining safety policies at their schools.

The Winnipeg School Division has posted links on its website with information about how parents can discuss traumatic events with their children.

Officials with Manitoba's Education Department say the province, along with all school divisions and teachers' associations, will review school safety measures early in the new year.

Deputy education minister Gerald Farthing says that review will also look at a broad safety plan, which was implemented in 2005, to see if any changes need to be made in light of the Newtown shooting.

Farthing said there has not been a review of the plan since it was put into place.