Child-care professionals in Canada are encouraging parents to talk to their children about the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., using age-appropriate language and nurturing them to relieve any anxiety.
"You don't want to avoid the topic because, otherwise, it will leave lots of room for their imagination [to run] and more anxiety because the unknown is our worst enemy for kids and adults," said Margaret Muzyka, a child bereavement specialist with the Canadian Mental Health Association in Windsor, Ont.
'The unknown is our worst enemy for kids and adults.'— Margaret Muzyka, bereavement specialist
Friday's shooting by a 20-year-old resident of Newtown resulted in the death of 20 students — all six or seven years old — and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The gunman first killed his mother at their home, and then burst into the school and opened fire in one of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history.
Muzyka said parents should be honest and factual while relaying information to children about such tragedies.
"Tell the truth, but also use concrete language that's appropriate for the age of the child. Answer children's questions in a way that they can understand," she said.
Cuddle, nurture kids, psychologist says
A child psychologist in London, Ont., warned parents against assuming the mass shooting is not the buzz of schoolyards this week.
Sally Christensen, with the Thames Valley District School Board, said it's important to allow children, not the parents, to bring up the topic first.
"They have plenty of years to discover that there are sometimes nasty things happening around them. We don't need to help them do that," Christensen said.
However, she said some children will eventually learn of the event and have questions. Fear will follow, she warned.
Nurturing helps to calm the anxiety, she said.
Christensen said gentle, physical contact and closeness work best.
"You can give your child a little hand massage with some lotion, that just feels darn good. You can pop some popcorn and snuggle up and watch a feel good movie," she said.
Christensen said repetitive activities, like riding a bike or bouncing a ball, can also help children dealing with fear.
Ontario Minister of Education Laurel Broten said teachers in the province are prepared to deal with questions children may have.
"In this modern age, there is note doubt conversation will take place in our schools," Broten said. "Our teachers will rely on expert advice in order to help them manage and ensure kids feel safe in our schools."