America experiences tragedy all too often, and it can seem daunting to try to guide our children through their questions about the impact of hate. Explaining something as horrifying as the Las Vegas shooting, Sandy Hook, or the Orlando night club tragedy can seem impossible. I find myself trying to find a balance between fact and hope.
When my son was nine, he broke his toe and we found ourselves in the emergency room, waiting for doctors while 24 hour coverage of the Orlando night club shooting was on the TV in the room. I had no choice but to explain what hate did that night. My oldest son is very world-conscious. He wants to hear news, ask questions, and be aware of the information provided by our news outlets. I want to protect him from some of the realities he will face soon enough, but I know I need to help him understand senseless acts even when I am also struggling.
With the most recent attack in Las Vegas, I started the conversation with my son before sending him to middle school. I wanted to explain what had happened before he heard it from his friends. I feel he’s old enough to talk about the world that he is entering, and even though I worry, he remains resilient through news like this.
Consider Their Age
Doctors recommend parents should leave a topic as big as this alone until children are at least seven. Children cannot properly work through events like these if they are any younger, and awareness of events at this age could serve to do more damage than good. A CNN report which quoted Dr. Paul Coleman, author of How to Say It to Your Child When Bad Things Happen, said, “They might see it on TV or hear about it at school (or heaven forbid even witness it), and then you have to deal with it. But younger children might not be able to handle it well.” If my younger children catch wind of a tragedy, I answer questions as simply as I can. However, I honestly think my youngest children don’t need to know about our heaviest events involving death, trauma, and evil.
I try to not assume I understand what my children already know about a tragic event. If they bring up a concern, I ask them questions like, “What have you heard?” “What are your questions, buddy?” This way I can work with them on their level. Children often help us understand what they are thinking. Assuming I know what they know can be dangerous, because I may accidentally reveal more information than they need.
Turn Off the News
It’s human nature to want to get as much information as possible; however, 24 hour news coverage of horrific events such as Orlando or Las Vegas is a bad idea for our little ones. The media tends to show the gruesome scenes over and over again, and if children are front row to this on a screen, it can negatively affect them. In the PBS article, Talking to Your Kids About News, they have great tips for working through these major topics with our children. “The American Psychological Association recommends limiting the amount of time spent watching news reports, as constant exposure may actually heighten their anxiety and fears.” As a parent, I wait until bedtime to catch up on the events of the day. I think it helps adults as well as kids to only search for the facts, and turn off the revolving scenes of terror.
Focus on the Positive Actions
It is no secret that tragedies like Las Vegas can level a country. We are left wondering how hate can take over, and how innocent people become targets of blind rage. It’s important for young and old to focus on the positive acts that come from tragedy. Behind all of the darkness, there are heroes. If discussions begin with my children, I try to shine a light on the heroes. The policemen running to save all of those people. The medical teams working overtime to give people the treatment they need. Those giving blood, writing cards, making food are examples of good overpowering evil. This kind of conversation can help our family brainstorm ideas of how we can add to the good in the world and begin silencing hate.
The bottom line is that we are raising the next generation, and we need a whole lot more kindness. We can address the evil that exists by acknowledging that good prevails. Our children need to feel like they can turn to us after tragic events. Having tough conversations with our children will not only help them, but it can also remind us, as adults, that we are also resilient. Our kids are walking examples that good exists, and working through tragedy with them can help both young and old find peace.