In the days that follow the tragedy in Connecticut, adults won't be the only ones asking questions.
Images of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown dominated news outlets Friday. Local authorities confirmed 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six adults.
Dr. Kevin Sanders, Child Adolescent Psychologist with Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said the hundreds of miles between Connecticut and Middle Tennessee do not matter in the mind of a child.
“Kids tend to personalize everything,” he said. “So I think the number one thought that's going to come to a child's mind is how this relates to them.”
According to Dr. Sanders, children of all ages will try to make sense of what happened. However, because children often lack the ability to cope or rationalize the same way an adult would, fear and anxiety are common.
“Younger kids may have physical complaints like stomach aches, pains. Teenagers may withdraw and be more avoidant, stay to themselves,” said Dr. Sanders. “Kids are going to handle this differently both because of their personality and because of their developmental level.”
Dr. Sanders said parents need to talk with kids in a way that is age appropriate. Be honest about what's happening. And don't make unrealistic promises, but be reassuring.
“Keep the routine as close to normal as you can,” he said. “Keep going to school. Keep going to birthday parties, weekend events, get-togethers. Things like that that the kid was expecting. I think that will help them feel more reassured.”
According to Metro Nashville Public Schools, there is no specific protocol for handling national school tragedies. However, local school counselors will be available, as usual, to talk with students as needed on Monday.
If your child's anxiety last for several days and interrupts daily activities like eating or sleeping, contact your pediatrician.