Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Talking to Your Child About the Aurora Tragedy

The unthinkable happened in Aurora, Colorado, in the early morning hours of July 20. This is a tragedy that may have hit closer to home for children, as it involved a movie (The Dark Knight Rises) that many of them planned to see. It’s a movie based on a beloved comic-book character, one devoted to stopping the sort of madness that took place in real life. (“No guns,” Batman says to Catwoman in the film. Indeed, the superhero swore off firearms in the comic books in 1939.)

Depending on your children's age, the PG-13 film may not be appropriate for them regardless. It certainly deals with some dark themes and contains disturbing violence and destruction.

Whether your children have seen the movie yet or not, they may have questions about the violence that took place in Aurora. They may have new fears; they may have misconceptions. You can help so much by simply having a conversation and answering questions. You’re the best judge of which specific details you feel your child can handle. However, there are discussion topics that can apply to dealing with any tragedy, be it local, national, or international. We asked Matthew Sable, a professional counselor who specializes in children and adolescents, for some pointers on beginning such a dialogue. —Jack Silbert

Columbine, September 11, Russian Beslan School Shootings, Virginia Tech, Aurora. Tragic, heartbreaking, surreal, devastating, profound. These are a few words that come to mind when describing these unthinkable acts. Since social media has become an integral part of modern society, our children now have unprecedented access to this violent landscape. So how do we begin to talk to our children about the violence? Here are a few helpful tips to guide you:

  1. Make the time to talk to your child. Do not expect your child to find a time that is convenient for you. Let them know they have access to you at anytime. Let their questions be your gauge as to how much information you should provide. Make sure your explanations are developmentally appropriate so that you do not provide information that they would not be able to understand or would cause undo fear, anxiety, or confusion.
  2. Assure them that it’s normal to feel anxious after such an incident. By assuring them that what they are feeling is completely normal will help them understand that they are not alone with their feelings.
  3. Review safety protocols that are in place both at home and school. If there are no safety protocols at home, make sure you develop a plan with your child so that they know what to do in case they feel threatened or feel at risk for harm. Make sure your child is aware that their school has a safety plan and identify at least one adult in school they could go to in case of an emergency. Discuss with your child how they can maintain a safe school environment by following school safety guidelines.
  4. Emphasize how important and loved your child is and ensure them that their safety is of the utmost priority. A child who feels safe, secure, and loved will be more trusting in confiding their feelings.
  5. Be aware of your child’s emotional state. Changes in their behaviors, appetite, sleep, motivation, energy, or a shift from their regular routines may be symptomatic of the underlying stress or discomfort they might be feeling but not verbalizing. These symptoms should diminish over time. However, for some children who are genetically predisposed for depression or anxiety, or who have had a past traumatic experience, these events can trigger an intense emotional reaction that will not go away on it’s own. Seek help from a mental health professional if you are at all concerned.

Matthew J. Sable, MA, NCC, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor in New Jersey. Matthew has been in private practice for the past seven years and treats children and adolescents exhibiting a wide range of emotional and behavioral disorders. Questions for Matthew can be directed Matthew’s email at

Matthew J. Sable can also be found on Psychology Today’s website.

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