Connecticut School Shooting Tragedy: Child Trauma is at the Heart of Every Act of Violence

14 December 2012 Categories: public school

(AP Photo/Newtown Bee, Shannon Hicks)

I am deeply saddened by the news of the tragic school shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut this morning. As of the time of this writing, 28 people have been confirmed dead, including 20 young children at the school, six adults at the school, a seventh adult at a second scene and the young 20 year old suspected gunman himself, Adam Lanza. My heart goes out to all of the people involved in these tragedies: The victims, their families, the surviving children who will suffer trauma from what they have witnessed and for the young man who could find no other way but violent means to meet his needs.

It is tragedies like these that cause me to feel deep gratitude that my son was unschooled and that I parent him by Attachment Parenting principles. These tragedies cause my heart to ache for the other children in my life who I love deeply or who I care about who are unfortunately not Attachment Parented or in a safe and need-meeting learning environment. My heart also aches for a society that will rush to hateful judgements and will blindly recycle superficial causes and superfluous “solutions” for the symptoms of a deeper malignant problem of Industrialized culture: Child trauma.

It is too early at this point in the investigation to confirm most details, including the exact identity of the alleged gunman, his motives, his targets or his history. There have been some reports that the young man named as the alleged gunman, Adam Lanza, targeted and killed his mother, who was a kindergarten teacher at the school., Channel 5 reported that a woman who knew the family described Adam as “a troubled child”, with “Asperger’s Syndrome and OCD” (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). The woman described Adam’s mother as “a dignified but strict” mother and that Adam would “rebel against” her strictness.

My son made a poignant comment tonight as we were eating and discussing this occurrence with somber moods. Deeply saddened by every aspect of this tragedy, my 18 year old son expressed an insight and piece of wisdom that most expert commentators in the news miss:

“He must have been in an inordinate amount of pain.”

At the heart of every act of violence is child trauma. At the heart of violence so extreme, such as taking the lives of innocent children, there are deep, chronic unmet needs. At the heart of violence targeted against one’s own mother, there is a disruption of attachment that could find no relief anywhere else in life’s offerings. To discuss these issues is not to make speculation about the family, or to in any way condone violence. Many people are fearful that empathic understanding of violent people negates responsibility or condones actions. Empathy does no such thing. Empathy in these situations allows us to stop, connect to the humanity and suffering in people, and to realize that crucial and immediate paradigm shifts are in order in our culture’s way of parenting and educating children in order to prevent future tragedies.

Terrified parents ran frantically to reach their children this morning after the shootings. No doubt when they were fortunate enough to find that their children survived, they held onto their children and didn’t want to let go. Not all of the parents were so fortunate. Their grief tonight is unimaginable.

Despite this horrific expression of industrialized culture, our culture will encourage parents all over the country- including the parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School- to send their children right back to school on Monday. Back at school, with the addition of a few grief counselors, it will soon be “business as usual” as children are expected to swallow their trauma, tears, fears and needs and attend to apathetic curriculum assignments. Our culture will increase school building security, tighten up on school rules and maybe even enforce that all youth are screened for mental illness and referred for mental health “treatment”. Psychiatric drugging of “troubled youth” may increase, crime punishment may intensify, metal music groups may be blamed and each political faction will most certainly capitalize on this tragedy to push their obtuse, self-serving agendas.

In other words, nothing will change. Nothing will change in our culture’s paradigm of parenting and educating children just as nothing changed after the infamous school shootings of the late 1990’s. No lessons will have been learned by our culture as a whole. Children will continue to suffer in home and school environments that do not even meet a fraction of their needs and when the conditions feel so intolerable that they act-out or sink into depression, they will continue to be punished or diagnosed as mentally ill.

It is time for us to heed Gandhi’s words, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world”, and take action to live them rather than just re-post them as  a Facebook status update. If every one of us did this, our culture would embark upon a true paradigm shift.

The first step in heeding and taking action to live Gandhi’s words is empathy and compassion:

Following violent tragedies, social media sites, the media, the office and our dinner tables can immediately become ablaze with judgmental and hateful comments self-righteously dehumanizing the violent offender and demanding punishment and tougher laws. What can you personally do within yourself to challenge these fearful beliefs and instead see the situation with compassion and love? The Hawaiian practice of Ho’ Pono Pono is a deeply healing and cleansing process that invites each of us to assume responsibility for our role in contributing to violence in the world while forgiving others and freeing ourselves of fear, anger and hatred. I love Ho’ Pono Pono and do my humanly-best to use it regularly.

Additionally, what can you personally do to help others connect empathically and view violent offenders through the lens of childhood trauma and unmet needs rather than through the lenses of cold political theories, religious judgements and legal system punishments?

The second step in taking action to live  Gandhi’s words is reaching out to those who are seeking another way:

How many children in our culture are surviving day in and day out in homes that are disconnected, strict, overpowering, authoritarian, neglectful, abusive and tormenting? What can you personally do to reach out to these families, report suspected child abuse and neglect or to inform the media about Attachment Parenting? How many children are trapped day in and day out in schools that are neglecting their basic needs, violating their human rights, confining them to desks and chairs and punishing, shaming, verbally abusing and instilling fear in them? What can you personally do to inform politicians and inform the media about unschooling? What can you do to reassure the distraught parents around the country that they don’t have to let go of the children they are embracing tightly tonight- that they can protect them through homeschooling and unschooling?

I believe that living a lifestyle that has the potential to heal humanity, as Attachment Parenting and natural learning certainly does, carries with it a responsibility to inform others about children’s needs and how to meet those needs. We can take action to reach out to parents, politicians and the media and inform them that more and more families of all demographics are living the need-meeting lifestyle of Attachment Parenting and Unschooling.

Tonight, hold your children close. At all ages, they need this from you. Allow your heart to feel the magnitude of the suffering felt by the families involved in these shootings. Allow your heart to connect to the conditions in this culture that are causing young people to feel so desperate, distraught and despairing that taking their own lives- or taking the lives of other people– seems like the only solution they can find to escape this culture. Then, reach out. “Be the change”. Don’t just post status updates to your social media platforms, but use the platform of your voice, your written words, your connection to family, friends and your communities to help update the paradigm of this culture.


15 Responses to “Connecticut School Shooting Tragedy: Child Trauma is at the Heart of Every Act of Violence”

  1. Kriste 14 December 2012 at 8:19 pm (PERMALINK)

    *standing ovation*

    As always, you take my heart and put it into words perfectly. Nothing else needs to be said. I love you dear friend.

  2. Mary Sue 14 December 2012 at 8:24 pm (PERMALINK)

    Your words about this tragedy were perfect.

  3. Amy 14 December 2012 at 9:21 pm (PERMALINK)

    Thank you for this poignant and succinct piece, Laurie.

  4. Niftymamaof4 15 December 2012 at 1:44 am (PERMALINK)

    I just want to say that I’m a big supporter of informed choice and doing what’s best for each individual child/family dynamic. I am just a little offended that you seem to believe that unschooling your children is so much safer! There have been violent shootings in malls, colleges and universities. I am very attached to my children but our family feels that the best choice for us is to utilize our small town public school where we have a close relationship with their teachers and bus driver and still play an active role in their education. They are not “confined” to desks nor do they experience shaming, verbal abuse or any other mistreatment you list.

    I do feel empathy for the young man who commited these horrifying murders and I feel such sadness that whatever experiences he had in life led him to this place. I believe we need to continue to build loving, attached relationships with our children but I also think it it close-minded and very judge mental to believe that unschooling is the only way to achieve those close bonds. I think we need to respect ALL parenting choices as long as they are made with the child/family’s best interest in mind. Unschooling was not a good fit for our family. That doesn’t mean that I’m less of an attached mom than you.

    • Laurie A. Couture 20 December 2012 at 11:09 am (PERMALINK)


      I am not understanding why you would be offended by my statements about unschooling if you are confident that being away from your children and having them in an environment that controls every move they make is “the best choice” for you. If you are not aware of the multitude of dangers of public schooling, then I would strongly recommend doing some research and reading my other blog posts, especially this one:

      You are correct that there have been shootings in other places besides school; we live in a violent society because children are raised with disconnection, trauma and violence and therefore no place can be seen as truly safe. However, public schools are a place where children are subordinated, subjugated and their needs and wishes ignored. Children’s human rights are violated on a daily basis in public schools. No other place in society can legally treat any adult citizen in the ways that schools treat children. It makes sense that some youth are going to feel a growing animosity towards such a place resulting in the vandalism, bullying, behavioral problems and violence we see so chronically in schools.

      Parenting is not open to negotiation. Nature doesn’t care about people’s “parenting choices”. Nature simply is what it is- What children need is simply what they need; nature doesn’t adjust that to accommodate “what’s best” for adults. Children’s needs are seen as an inconvenience in our culture and that is why parents have invented the idea of “parenting choices” and “educational styles”. What would happen if other mammals decided to stop meeting their children’s needs and instead invented their own “parenting styles”? In the lab, when monkeys are subjected to the types of deprivation that we bestow upon our human children, those monkeys grow into aggressive or neglectful adults and parent accordingly. Please see:

      I have no desire to offend you, and I don’t blame any parents. I am simply stating nature’s intent and what happens when we do not heed nature’s intent. I do challenge every adult in our culture to question why our culture is set up in such a way as to cause such suffering to people, starting with our children.

      You said you are very attached to your children- I’m happy to hear that and I don’t doubt that. However, forcing your children to go to a place that does confines them- (are your children free to get up and move around the building freely whenever they wish? Go outside and play when they wish? Use the toilet, eat and hydrate whenever they have the need? Choose what activities they want to do and when? Call you and visit you whenever they have the need? Leave the school? NOT go to school?)- disrupts children’s feelings of secure attachment to their parents over time. When children live in a loving home but spend six hours five days a week over a period of 13 or more years in an oppressive environment, plus many more wasted hours and years devoted to homework and school activities (that are not able to be spent with family, friends and personal pursuits), secure attachment suffers an injury. The unnatural phenomenon of teenage rebellion is evidence of that harm.


  5. Karen Lee 15 December 2012 at 7:31 am (PERMALINK)

    I will be sharing this. I think you’ve managed to get to a deeper level than any article in the news is likely to do. Whilst there are undoubtedly some complexities to this situation that we may never understand, the truth remains that all children (all people!) desperately need a strong connection with at least one other human.

  6. Mia 15 December 2012 at 7:55 am (PERMALINK)

    Thank you for this thoughtful blog on these tragic events. If more people thought like you do there would be a lot fewer incidents like the one we saw yesterday.

  7. Vera Lane 15 December 2012 at 10:45 am (PERMALINK)

    A sincere and heartfelt – Thank you!

  8. Melissa 16 December 2012 at 3:14 am (PERMALINK)

    Wonderful, Laurie. Thank you for writing this. I will be sharing your words.

  9. Olivia 16 December 2012 at 3:39 am (PERMALINK)

    Are you aware that media reports are suggesting that he was, in fact, homeschooled (not unschooled but anyway)? I like this article , and agree that child and adult trauma lies at the root of violence (rather than some innate aggressive instinct, as Freud liked to surmise) but I do think it is important not to fall into too easy good/bad paradigms re school/unschooling. I am not sure which I will do yet but whichever it will be my connection to my children will be at the heart of it. Peace.

    • Laurie A. Couture 20 December 2012 at 10:43 am (PERMALINK)


      Since the writing of my article, I learned that Adam’s mother “pulled him out of school” in the 10th grade because the school was not meeting his needs and there were ongoing conflicts between her and the school about Adam’s needs. There is no mention of unschooling at all. I read two reports that the mother was rigid and controlling. As I have posted on Facebook, taking a “School-At-Home” approach is not much healthier for a child than being in public school, especially if the parenting approach is rigid and controlling. It is important not to confuse a “School-At-Home” homeschooling approach with unschooling, which is nature’s intent for children’s learning. Unschooling honors a child’s needs, passions and interests. I cannot make any further assumption about the family, as no one but Adam knows what it was like to be him or in his environment.

      I stand by my statements that a securely attached child who is living in an environment that respects his needs and his interests does not shoot his own mother in the face and then go to a school and brutally massacre the principal at close range as she is crying and screaming for her life, and then open fire with a semi-automatic weapon on innocent children, teachers and staff. Certainly, violent behavior can be caused if a young person was under the influence of psychiatric or recreational drugs, was suffering severe food sensitivities, had an organic neurological issue or had a head injury. For violence to be so calculated and planned, chronic environmental distress would be the trigger.

      So-called “mental illness” is a condition of our culture, a collection of distress symptoms from intolerable environments. Nearly everything about our society and culture is the antithesis of children’s needs. People’s apathy to children’s needs doesn’t come without a price- Children are resilient, but some are much less resilient and can only take so much. People who struggle to understand that mental illness is a symptom rather than a cause have been very well-versed in the multi-billion dollar language of the medical and pharmaceutical fields.


  10. catherine weiss 17 December 2012 at 10:35 pm (PERMALINK)

    Thank you for writing this, for your constant work to help all of our children, for your example, for writing your book. You are an inspiration to me. May I forward to President Obama, who is actively looking for solutions now?

  11. Kirk 21 December 2012 at 8:37 am (PERMALINK)

    Your sentiments on “mental illness” are in good company, echoing those of A.S. Neill who believed that supporting children, truly supportint their interests and passions would be a huge step towards eliminating these real challenges to our kids. Wonderful expose on trauma, thanks!

  12. Thomas 29 December 2012 at 4:49 pm (PERMALINK)

    Interesting article but is there any evidence that the shooter experienced childhood trauma? His parents were less than stellar but I have yet to see any evidence of severe childhood trauma. Are you aware of something that we have missed?

    • Laurie A. Couture 6 January 2013 at 8:15 am (PERMALINK)


      You have yet to see any evidence? Shooting his mother in the face, shooting the Sandy Hook school principal to death at close range while she screamed, massacring innocent children, teachers and staff with a semi-automatic weapon- That isn’t evidence enough for you?

      Our culture of “law and order”, punishment and retribution fails to understand basic facts about the human brain: Human beings are born wired for love, peace and compassion. Violence is a learned behavior, a result of and symptom of serious emotional injury in the first 18 years of life (especially in the first three). Our culture does not want to accept this fact because then parents, schools and society would need to be held accountable when children grow up to commit violent acts on society. It’s easier to condemn and demonize the individual as a “cold-hearted monster” than to look inside of ourselves and take responsibility for how we each contribute to a violent society through supporting cultural abuse and neglect of children.

      I recommend reading my book, Instead of Medicating and Punishing: Healing the Causes of Our Children’s Acting-Out Behavior by Parenting and Educating the Way Nature Intended for more concrete “evidence” that violence and emotional instability in young people are a result of childhood trauma and unmet needs.



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