As military families, we are used to having to tackle the harder subjects in life, and we hit them head-on. We know we need to be honest with our kids about war, and about what our deployed service members are facing. However, there is always a balance between the truth about tragedy and information that could be too overwhelming for younger ears.
I was thinking about the horrific shooting early Friday morning at an Aurora, Colo. movie theater. How can we explain this tragedy and others like it to our children while maintaining a sense of trust? How can we assure they can be safe and still meet good people in this world?
Before you put yourself in the situation of telling them too much, it’s always a good idea to explain a situation in very clear terms. Ask your child if he or she has any questions.
For example, you could say, “I know you heard about the sad story in the news today. Do you have any questions about it that I could help you with?”
When asking your child what they know and understand about the tragedy, listen to their answer carefully. Gently correct any misinformation as appropriate. Largely, it’s important to understand what they know and to reassure any fears they tell you about.
Truth and trust go hand in hand. Not being truthful can really harm trust in a relationship. It’s better to say, “I am not ready to tell you about that just yet” than it is to fabricate a lie in order to dodge a hard topic.
I have told my daughter from a young age that my job as a mother is to take care of her, and that includes keeping her safe. There have been times she wanted to know information that I could not share with her. I tell her, reassuringly, “In order to take care of you, I need you to trust that I know the answer, but I can’t tell you right now.” She’s learned that, as she gets older, I will tell her the truth in doses she can handle.
We all need some reassurance when our lives are marred by tragedy. Even if these tragedies do not affect us personally, the reverberating shock from an event can greatly disturb our peace and our sense of well-being.
Time itself if can be the best reassurance we have. Meanwhile, a lot of extra hugs, words of assurance and open discussion can help. It’s always good to point out that tragedies are not normal, so we should not stop going to the movies, to school, to our neighbors’ homes or any other place we like to go. We should not stop driving our cars when we see a horrible accident. We should not stop cooking if the stove burned your fingertip.
The most important thing is to reassure to your child that life should go on as normal.
Having our safety and security indirectly threatened by random acts of violence can cause us to grieve. It’s more of a vicarious type of grief, but it can feel intense and linger for a while. Some of these emotions may range from shock and disbelief to anger and intense sadness. What a grieving person needs is time, support and lot of love from family and friends.
During the time of a national tragedy, it may be a good idea to limit television and radio exposure. To sit in front of the news constantly can intensify feelings of sorrow or anger.
I was in Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001. My oldest son was in high school at the time. I was away on a business trip. He sat and watched the footage of the attacks all day long in school. To this day, he will say that the constant exposure to the tragedy was very hard on him and burned images into his mind. I had to question the judgement of the school for allowing the constant exposure like that, especially for a child with a parent in the midst of the tragedy.
From very personal experience, I can tell you it’s better to shut the TV off and read a book together, watch a comforting movie together, go for a walk together and do things that start to normalize life again.
Photo courtesy nicubunu.photo