Parents overwhelmed by their own fear and confusion had one key question: What do we tell our children?
The truth, as simply and calmly as possible, said Robert Jones, president of Children's Aid and Family Services in Ridgewood, N.J.. Be careful to keep things very simple for small children, listen carefully to what they ask, and answer those specific questions, because their first concerns may be different from yours.
He suggests telling preschoolers, for example: "The world is a very, very safe place and usually people live to be very old, but sometimes bad things happen to good people and that's very sad. We're all sad right now."
He added: "What goes wrong sometimes is in our own pain and horror and shock; we overwhelm children with things they don't yet need to know. Right now children need the truth. There's no magic pill."
Victoria Youcha, a child development specialist at Zero to Three, a child research organization in Washington, advised following any ritual that your family enjoys. Children will draw security from it, whether that means reading together, snuggling on the couch with a book, lighting candles, or praying.
"Little kids take their cues from people they depend on," Youcha said. "I would say to parents, it's OK to tell them you're afraid and upset, but you have to convey to them that you're safe and OK and together, and your job is to keep them safe."