Helping Children Cope with the Newtown Tragedy

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, Ed.D. is an educational psychologist in Ridgefield and offers advice on helping children cope with the tragic news in Newtown.

Editor's note: Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge is a member of the Ridgefield community and said she offered the following information to the families with whom she works. Here, she shares that advice with Patch readers.

In light of the horrific shooting that has happened in our community today many families have reached out to me to ask, “What should I tell my child?” I wanted to give you some information to help you during this frightening and sad time.

  • Most importantly, Children need to feel safe and loved. Reassure them that they are and that this is an isolated incident.
  • Know that everyone reacts to tragedy differently. Some children are highly affected and others are more resilient. They react differently based on their age, temperament, and personality. Some may display shock, suffering, sadness, anger and anxiety - these are all normal reactions to tragedy. Just being with your child when they express these emotions gives them comfort. 
  • Take time to LISTEN to what your children are saying and WATCH what your children are showing you. Some children may get very upset and others may not show their feelings outwardly. Some children may show their feelings at a later time.  
  • Children are remarkably resilient. They may become quite upset, but given a chance to express what they feel, they usually resume their normal lives especially with normal structure. So, try to stick to your normal routine if possible. 
  • Limit media exposure to the incident. Children of all ages can be highly impacted. Your teens may become quite distraught because they understand the severity of the situation but emotionally can’t handle it. 
  • Let the children ask the questions - asking a ton of questions isn’t a good idea. Some questions may just come from curiosity, and others may come from deep sadness. Do your best to answer them honestly - in a developmentally appropriate way. Instead of jumping in with a response, ask questions like, “What makes you think that?” Children will hear bits and pieces of information, and therefore may have fears that you aren’t aware of - so listening is very important. If your child asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, it is okay to say “I don’t know”. 
  • If your child asks you a question that you don’t know, it is okay to say “I don’t know”.
  • If you are spiritual or participate in a particular faith, prayer with your children is a comfort. 
  • Highly impacted children may have difficulty sleeping, eating or separating. Younger children may display some regressive behaviors. Give children time to move through the loss. 
  • If your child is particularly upset, calming activities (like art) can be very helpful in getting one’s thoughts and emotions out. Just be there with them to answer any questions they may have. 
  • Lastly, if you are concerned that your child is highly affected or having trouble returning to their normal routine, reach out to a mental health professional at your child’s school or in private practice.

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge is an educational psychologist and a Connecticut Certified School Psychologist with more than fifteen years experience in the mental health and educational fields. Her private practice work in Ridgefield, CT is focused in the assessment of learning issues, academic achievement, and behavioral issues, as well as parent advocacy and school consultation and training.


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