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The Sandy Hook Tragedy: A Family Therapist Perspective

Holiday reflections wrapped for the season

This season, we gather together with friends and family, and cannot help but feel deeply touched by the tragedy of December 14th in Newtown, Connecticut. As a nation and around the world it is an understatement to say that we are overcome with deep sorrow, disbelief, shock, and horror. We are all asking…why? How could this happen? What can be done?

Experts abound from politicians, educators, news anchors, religious leaders and others to begin important discussions on problems to solve. Gun control, bullying, mental health care, violence in our culture, abuse in our families are among the many topics. We hear those who blame and thoughtful words from many who truly care.

It’s hard as a family therapist not to jump in and say something. Of course, none of us have all the answers and there are many answers and perspectives to be considered. But, I keep thinking about the young ages of these recent offenders in the horrendous mass shootings we’ve seen this year. I keep stopping there. They are so young. They don’t have long crime histories. They don’t have long life histories or patterns of failure. They haven’t lived that long. So what they likely have are histories of childhood trauma or something missing in their upbringing.

I don’t say this to blame the parents. I don’t say this to diagnose. But, I do want to discuss the importance of knowing your own children. Perhaps this is what we can all take away from this horrible tragedy that can help our own families. Somehow when lessons can be learned, the pain and horror is more bearable. For the grief stricken families of Newtown however, nothing anyone says can take away the pain. Our hearts and prayers will continue to go out to each and every one of them this season, this day and each day forward.

But as we sit in our homes this season, with our loved ones, what can we do to make a difference? I think recovery begins at home with each and every one of us. Sometimes it is very simple and my reflection brings simple tasks. Listen to each other. Listen to your children. Know your children.

Many may say that you do know your children. You know their interests, their appetite choices, their academic worlds, their friends, etc… But, I am talking about the emotional world of your child. Every day and every night and sometimes in-between and whenever you get the chance, ask your child some or all of these simple questions:

  • What are you feeling today?
  • What are you thinking today?
  • If you could draw me a picture today what would it be?
  • What makes you happy today?
  • What makes you sad today?
  • What are you worried about?
  • What do you need help with today?
  • Who do you want to help today?
  • What makes you relax and enjoy today?
  • Do you have some anger to tell me about?
  • What do you feel grateful for today?
  • Who do you want to hug today?
  • What makes you feel scared and uneasy?
  • Do you need a hug?

If we are emotionally tuned into the ones we love, we will know if they are suffering. We can be there when it matters. We can interfere with their scary thoughts and help them. We need to teach children and ourselves to search inward and identify feelings and ask for help, solace, comfort, discussions, and nurturing. These are the kinds of things that make families healthy and whole. Compassion, empathy, understanding for each other is what children need to learn. If we focus on raising emotionally intelligent children, this world would be a better place.

As a therapist who sees trauma every day and has worked with unresolved trauma in people of all ages from 3 to 83, I believe everyone has some parts of their hearts that are broken. We can all make a difference if we are willing to hold a few of those hearts with our love. What would happen if we could teach our little ones to do the same? I believe they would be much less likely to grow up troubled and want to hurt others. Hurt people often want to hurt other people.

Let’s start at home. Unwrap the gifts of love, listening, empathy, and compassion. They are the prettiest and most sparkly gifts under your tree right now. They are calling you. Your name is written on them. As you sit with your loved ones and unwrap this joy, may the light of hope and peace shine in your homes and hearts this season.

Additional Resources for Recovery:

Resource Website:

Book: Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

Audio Book:

Workshop: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers Virtual Workshop. Work recovery in the privacy of your own home, complete with video presentations and homework assignments:



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