Talking to terrified kids
By Susan Frick Carlman firstname.lastname@example.org November 1, 2012 9:46AM
Naperville resident Chris Geraci adds her offering to the growing memorial to the two children and two dogs that were killed in the 800 block of Quinn Court. She said she "felt so bad for the two little innocent children, they did'nt deserve that." | Rich Hein~Sun-Times
Updated: December 3, 2012 6:15AM
A murder typically leaves a community reeling. The shock is particularly keen when there is more than one victim, and further compounded if they are children.
A psychiatrist at Linden Oaks Hospital in Naperville shared some advice for talking with young children about the killings of two young kids in the city Tuesday night.
“Obviously, kids are going to be fairly upset with this, and anxious, and are just going to need a lot of reassurance that these events are not typical events and that they’re really rare,” Dr. Janice Kowalski said. “Parents are going to have to reassure them that they’re safe. Kids might have more anxiety at night, and parents may need to sit with them more at night.”
Children are curious and imaginative, and those traits can magnify their fears. Kowalski said it’s never wise to lie to children, but it’s likely they will have heard things about the grisly murders.
“If they come to you with questions, you need to answer them with reassurance that they’re safe, that Mommy and Daddy are here,” she said.
If they share details they’ve heard, parents can confirm they’ve also heard them, she said. They should stress to their children that they’re not in danger.
Some children may wonder if the victims somehow did something to deserve what happened.
“Again, just reassure them that there’s nothing that these kids could do justifiably to make this happen, that what this person did was wrong,” Kowalski said.
And because children often want to know the “why” of things, parents should expect that question as well.
“Of course, you don’t have the answer,” she said. “But I think you would have to respond that there are adults that are working to make sure this doesn’t ever happen again.”
The coinciding of the murders with Halloween could fuel children’s fears — and the filing of charges against a woman who was the mother of one of the victims and the babysitter of the other could further deepen them.
“They might have nightmares. And if they have a babysitter, they might need more reassurance, more phone calls,” Kowalski said. “You can always say, ‘Call Mommy and Daddy. We’re always here.’”
Scott Elementary in District 203 and Brookdale Elementary in District 204, the schools attended by the two slain children, will be most strongly affected, Kowalski said. Administrators said teams of social workers put in place at both buildings Wednesday morning will remain available for as long as necessary.
Brookdale Principal Mary Howicz posted notification of the 5-year-old girl’s killing on the school website early morning, and included a message worded specifically for the students.
“I am very sad to tell you this,” Howicz wrote. “One of Brookdale’s students died last night. We know this is sad news and you might have questions. If you feel sad or want to talk to an adult who can help you, just let your teacher know. Your teacher can also help you. Like your families, the adults at school will make sure all of you feel safe.”
In District 203, the conversation was left to the students’ parents.
“If any student hears something, we will have our counselors address it on an individual basis, and have their families follow up with them at home,” district spokeswoman Susan Rice said.
Kowalski said students exhibiting effects of the incident should be encouraged to discuss their feelings with the school social workers.
“Kids are going to get sad. They’re going to miss this person,” she said. “There’s going to be an absence in that room.”