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Explaining Tragedy to a Preschooler

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: We have tried to keep the news of the latest school shooting from our daughter but we are concerned about how to teach her to react in this situation. A day ago I laughed about stories of schools putting programs in place and now I am wondering what do I teach my child to do if a gunman appears at her school or daycare? How do we do this without scaring her? She is only three.

A: Your daughter is too young to comprehend these school killings and she should not be purposely exposed to any media images or discussions of this or any other similar tragedy. Although it's highly unlikely that the school killings of the past two years would be repeated in a preschool or daycare center, it's not absurd to ask your preschool or daycare provider to tell you what their policy is regarding the appearance of a threatening stranger. If there is no policy or plan of action regarding these potential dangerous situations, I would suggest that you and other parents form an action committee with preschool and daycare staff to draft a plan of implementation. All childcare facilities and schools should have clear plans of action in response to crises, be they fire, noxious fumes, intruders, power failures, etc.

Explaining emergency responses to three year-olds can best be done through story telling and role playing, using age-appropriate words that do not cause undue anxiety and fears. Early childhood experts would be of great help in developing and implementing these emergency "teaching tales." Why don't you ask an area college's early child development staff to help you develop such an emergency program?

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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