NEWS SPECIAL/CONNECTICUT TRAGEDY
ARTHUR J PAIS
She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and meditat- ed for some time to quiet her inner turmoil. Her 8- year-old son was coming home from school. He might or might not have heard of the Sandy Hook School killings, Khyati Joshi, associate professor at
Fairleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey, whose work also
focuses on promoting cultural and religious pluralism in the
United States, thought.
She turned off the television. She did not want a sensory
overload for him.
She found out the news had not yet spread across the students at the school. So she told him in a few words what had
happened, reassuring him that his school was safe and that
his parents and teachers were there to protect him and other
“Instead of telling him things, I asked him what was going
on in his mind,” Joshi said. She told him that she did not
know all the facts, but she had to tell him about a gun being
used in the carnage.
“I was careful to tell him that the Constitution gives the
right to bear arms,” she said. “I also told him that in the
hands of the wrong people, guns do a lot of harm.”
Don’t overwhelm your children, Joshi continued. “Keep it
short, to the point and — what I also tell parents — probably
the best thing you can do is to listen. Because kids will have
questions and some of them may be difficult questions like:
‘Why would someone do that? Or why should anyone kill lit-
Schenectady, New York, psychologist Dr Rudy Nydegger
said while parents everywhere should say something to their
young children about the killings in Sandy Hook, brevity
should prevail. He would not recommend telling kids such a
thing could not happen at their school.
He told a newspaper: ‘What I think is a good thing to say
is, “As awful as this is — it’s a terrible, terrible thing — but
even as awful as it is, this does not happen very often, it’s
much more likely that some other terrible thing would hap-
pen than something like this, schools are really pretty safe.’
Like millions of fellow Americans, Indian-American par-
ents also struggled with a visceral fear for their children, as
well as questions about how to explain the killing of young
children. The task was even more difficult to teachers work-
ing in public schools prone to violence and student vendetta.
“For years, I have been hiding my fears for my safety,” said
an Indian-American teacher who did not want to be named.
“You hear all the time that a student who was disciplined or
given a low grade going after the teacher. But when children
are killed, you forget about your own self and start wonder-
ing about the safety and security of your children.”
“The thought of sending your kid out into a world where
even schools can be dangerous is terrifying. I have a friend
from Bangladesh who hoped coming to America would give
her and her children a safe haven, but she is shaken by the
recent killings even more than Virginia Tech killings because
there were young victims, some of them close to her son’s age.
But we have also to understand, though it is difficult to do for
quite some time, violence is pervasive and no place is really
The reaction of parents like Joshi is the course some
psychologists advocate. Matthew Biel, a professor at
Georgetown University, offered this advice: ‘If they bring
it up, ask what they know about the event and ask if they
have any questions. Use simple, direct, honest answers
and employ age-appropriate language and explanations.
Children who don’t discuss the event shouldn’t be prod-
ded by parents — kids will let us know when they are
ready to talk.’
How to talk to your child
about a terrible tragedy
Sophie Bell, 9, holds a sign at an interfaith candlelight prayer vigil to end gun violence outside City Hall, Los Angeles,
California, December 19
That is what physician, professor and staunch Gandhian
Manoj K Jain did with his high school-going son Rishyab in
Memphis. His son had known of the carnage before he came
home as the school had held a counseling session. Even so,
Jain switched off the television for hours.
“But we discussed the nature of violence,” he said. “We also
discussed the need to have some kind of gun control.”
Joshi, Jain and many other parents found out that switch-
ing off the television was a smart thing; many trauma psy-
chologists have been recommending it.
‘If it’s causing you a great deal of anxiety, it is alright to step
away from the computer and away from the television, and
find out the entire story, as much as possible, in a few days,’
said Deborah Gilboa, a family physician who advices parents
through her Web site www.AskDoctorG.com
The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends
limiting a child’s exposure to media reports about traumatic
Helping your children focus on the goodness that often follows tragedy can also help them cope, Gilboa said, adding
that just as adults may feel the urge to donate to charity or do
something useful in the wake of a tragedy, children can be
comforted by simple actions like making cards for survivors
or coming up with ways their school can help.
That suggestion has been followed by children across
America including Sikh kids who still traumatized by the
Oak Creek Gurdwara killing.
“The first question many of our kids asked was if these
were Sikh children,” said a Sikh community leader. “Every
child in our community knows what happened at the Oak
Creek gurdwara. Even as we assured that these were not Sikh
kids, we also had to tell them they were all God’s children and
nobody deserves a violent fate, least of children.”
Like many parents whose children are mentally chal-
lenged, an Indian-American friend in a New Jersey town was
worried for his 4-year-old child who has minor autism.
He had heard that children and adults saying that the reason why Adam Lanza shot little kids is because he had
The teachers at the school told him that they had told the
older students clearly that autism doesn’t make people shoot
“Yet I am deeply worried over the repercussions when my
child grows up,” he said. “As it is many of the classmates make
fun of her because she is vegetarian and she is an Indian.”
Some parents also discussed death, telling their children
that everyone dies. And in doing so, parents like Joshi were
encouraging children to express feelings openly, even letting
them cry. They did not tell the children how they should or
should not feel; they offered warmth, physical presence and
“I was also able to tell my children,” Joshi said, “that one of
the best things about America is that when some really bad
things happen, everyone becomes united and offers support.”
guns,” Divakaruni said, referring to Oak
Creek rampage. She and Grewal want more
voices from the Indian community be heard
for restricting guns.
“Some people have been saying that bad
people can always get hold of weapons,” said
Divakaruni, mother of two college-going
‘It’s too easy to get a gun. Something has to be done’
sons. “They give the example of a man who
slashed over two dozen children with a knife.
But no one died, right? I discussed this on
my Facebook page. I also believe that it is
easier to overpower a knife-wielding person.
As for people carrying guns to protect them,
I cannot think of people not getting panicky
when confronted by a gunman.”
And most probably they may not be able to
shoot straight, she added.