Minn. parents: How we talked to our kids about the Newtown shooting

Sidewalk memorial
David Freedman, right, kneels with his son Zachary, 9, both of Newtown, Conn., as they visit a sidewalk memorial for the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children.
AP Photo/David Goldman

We asked Minnesota parents in MPR's Public Insight Network to share their thoughts following the school shooting in Connecticut on Friday. We also asked them what it's been like to talk to their children about the incident. Some of their responses are compiled below.

"My kids, especially my second grader, is already afraid and having nightmares after fire safety programs, fire drills at school, and lock down drills at school. All three have anxiety already, due to autism in our family, and there is a lot of black and white thinking going on (everything to one extreme or another) so this is something they didn't ask about, didn't mention, and I choose not to talk about."

Brenda Grundeen, of North St. Paul, mother of three children ages 7,9 and 12

"We probably would not have told him, but we wanted him to hear it from us rather than from people at school to make sure he understood that it did not happen here. ... He listened but didn't ask any questions. We would have been honest with the details if he asked, but made sure he understood it did not and would not happen to him or to anyone he knew."

Joanna Bigler-Jones, of Chaska, mother of 10-year-old

"We choose to shield this from her completely. With so much violence in the news as it is, we decided that sharing this incident with her would do her more harm than good. We can hardly make sense of this ourselves. Sooner or later she will have to confront our human realities. For a few more months we'd like to let her remain an innocent child free from fear of the evil that the world has to offer."

Trevor Russell, of Minneapolis, father of 6-year-old

"The first question was 'Why?' I told him that that was a great question ... then, I told him that I did not know 'why that happened' and in fact, a lot of people were asking the same question but most likely we'll never know the answer. I then tried to point out all the people that were coming to help and assist the people that were struggling with the situation ... then, he asked 'are the other children okay?', and I said yes ... we then talked about emotions feeling sad and mad."

Ramon Pastrano IV, of Maple Grove, father of 10-year-old

"The girls could not understand why anyone would shoot themselves. It was hard to grasp that all of the kids are now gone from life on earth. I tried to compare it to it happening at our school and to imagine that you would never see your friends again that it happened to. Both girls commented on how proud they were of the teachers who saved children's lives. Something like this is so monstrous that children at this age can't comprehend the scope of it."

Scott Palm, of Forbes, father of girls ages 7 and 9 and boys ages 4 and 3

"Their questions surrounded, well how is the school now, and what happened, how are the teachers and what happened to those people? And so we kind of talked about how some of them did not make it and they're having special remembering services for those people, but how their own school is very safe, and how this is very rare, and something like this, really, it hardly ever happens, and that's a good thing."

Heidi Faber, of Rockford, mother of children ages 4, 6 and 8

"I decided we would not tell her a thing because she gets so nervous about disasters and this is a disaster that will only scare her. There's nothing beneficial for her in knowing about it like there is if there's a fire or a tornado, where she can know what to do and practice it. I imagine that when she starts school, there will be a lockdown drill, and that's all the more she needs to know. If there have been fewer than 20 incidents like this in the US ever, the odds of it happening are so low that her worry far outweighs any discussion of it."

Marie Ljosenvoor, of Maple Lake, mother of 4-year-old

"I don't think it's necessarily wise to shield young children from understanding or experiencing human suffering, but I expected this to be as beyond my 9-year-old's grasp as it is mine. So my main focus was being able to answer his questions: 1. How far away is Connecticut? Answer: Across the country — way far away. 2. Is Connecticut farther than New York? (we've been to NY many times) Answer: Yes! It's farther. 3. Is the guy who did this dead? How did he die? Answer: He's dead and can't hurt anyone else. He killed himself — all of these awful shooter guys die and nearly all kill themselves. 4. Are we going to visit Connecticut? Answer: No — I can't think of a single solitary reason we'd visit Connecticut. 5. I mean, if there's some EMERGENCY or something, might we maybe SOMEDAY go there? Maybe? Me (lie): No. We are never, ever going to Connecticut. Really no reason we need to go there so you never have to worry about that one bit. Later — he wanted to know more details but all about what guns were involved. Nothing about a person other than the shooter — but his initial questions were all geographical proximity."

Mary Petrie, of St. Paul, mother of children ages 9, 14 and 16

"They heard about it at school — mostly through Facebook. They are often on computers and their smart phones and they learned about it that way. We talked about it together. There was no way that they were not going to hear about it and better to discuss together. They are sad that this is becoming common — so though they feel sorrow they are less surprised than I expected. They feel a little bad about that."

Susan Flueger Nevitt, of Red Wing, mother of children ages 13 and 16

"He knows that people can die in car accidents, yet we still drive. We drive safely and obey the law and wear seatbelts to do everything we can to avoid harm. There is absolutely nothing he or I or my husband can do if a shooter comes into his classroom. Nothing. This thought terrifies me. He trusts us to protect him but we cannot. If I told him, I could not expect him to go to school and feel safe. But he has to go to school, regardless of feeling safe or not. I am responsible for making sure he goes to school and that he is prepared to do his best there. If he is terrified of being in school, that won't happen. We have talked about other shootings. He knows these things happen, but I don't want to tell him that it happened to a school just like his, in a classroom just like his."

Christine Daves, of Minneapolis, mother of 6-year-old

"My 12 year old mainly wanted to know about the killer. Who was he, had anyone tried to stop him, and why did he do it. We talked a little about mental illness and how that can make people sick and do really bad things. Then my son asked me if all terrorists were mentally ill and then the conversation went on..."

Rebecca Amidon, of St. Paul, mother of children ages 18, 12 and 10

"My three oldest kids have heard the news. My son, the 3 1/2 year old saw my wife crying on Friday afternoon. She tried to hide it from him but the grief was overwhelming. He asked why whe was crying and she told him that someone hurt children and that the children died. He asked if they were being hurt anymore and she told him no, that they were not being hurt anymore. She told him that he was safe. My oldest two girls heard the news on Friday they were with their grandmas coming back from a trip. I talked about it a bit with the 10 year old but I haven't wanted to go into any great detail with her just answering factual questions sort of thing, correcting rumors, etc."

JP Rennquist, of Duluth, father of children ages 13, 10, 3 1/2 and 1

"My 8-year-old asked how old the kids were that died. At that point, I didn't realize they were all so young, so I told her they were between ages 5 and 10. My 11-year old came to my lap and cried quietly as we hugged very tightly. Our 7th grader grew quiet for a while and then, when she perceived that I was ready to not talk about it anymore, she told me about zombie tag at recess."

Erica Hunt, of St. Paul, mother of children in grades 3, 5 and 7

"I didn't really want to get into the shooting aspect. I sat down with my boys and told them if they ever get scared or frightened and don't know what to do just remember that their guardian angel will always be there to help protect them. Then my 4-year-old asked 'Does my guardian angel have a gun?' I cried."

Christine Skluzacek, of Montgomery, mother of children ages 9, 6, 6 and 4

"I gave them a synopses of what happened. My younger son wanted to know if the police helped out so we talked about the first responders, how the other children it the school left the building and were met by their parents. They wanted to know how he could shoot so many people so fast before someone stopped him so we talked about how fast weapons shoot and how people responded as fast as they could."

Camille Holthaus, of Minneapolis, mother of children ages 8 and 11

"I chose not to tell them. This is not how I want them to learn about death. This was a terrible tragedy and is an isolated incident. I don't want him to be afraid to go to school."

Brian Ernste, of Rochester, father of children ages 2 and 4

"They really didn't have questions. They were really struck by it for about a minute, and then were ready to get on with their lives. Thankfully, I don't think they are capable of taking in the scope of the situation."

Anne Holt, of Edina, mother of children in grades 2 and 4

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