In the wake of recent shootings around the nation it is hard for many adults feel safe and to understand the actions of hate and terror. So how does one even begin to explain the outbreak of domestic terrorism and mass shootings that have plagued our nation to a child?
Here are some very general guidelines for most kids:
1) Be honest. Don’t assume that hiding the truth will protect your child — it won’t. We are being deluged with information about shootings and your children are being exposed to much of the same information that you are. Of course many schools now have shooter drills in case the unthinkable happens in their school. You must be willing to discuss reality with your kids.
2) Ask them questions. What have they heard about shootings? Where have they heard about them? What do they make of the news? What do they think of what happened? How do they feel? Have a conversation about it.
3) Validate their fears. This is a scary time and scary things keep happening. Don’t encourage them to be scared, but let them know that it is normal to be afraid and that fear can help us be more careful to stay safer.
4) Gather information and reenforce the safety drills at school. The fact that kids need drills is upsetting to everyone. Bear in mind that those drills are designed to save lives and keep your child safe. Remind your child that it is very unlikely that they will ever have to protect themselves from a shooter, just like it is very unlikely they will ever have to protect themselves from a fire. Nonetheless, the drills are there to help everyone know what to do, just in case something goes badly.
5). Be reassuring. This is really the most important thing. Let them know that you are fine and that they are safe. Don’t tell them you are invincible, but you can let them know that you are very careful and that you will do everything possible to stay safe. For many children, this is enough.
Think about what your child is capable of understanding. Age plays a major role in this. Young children, under the age of 8 or 9, may only want reassurance and need only have a brief conversation. Older children may need to understand why these people are doing these terrible things. Children under 10 are very concrete thinkers, although many older children are concrete thinkers as well. They may not understand or be comforted by abstract ideas. Again, you will need to use your judgment and feel your way.
When I work with children and they ask me why people do monstrous things, I make the following comparison: Pretend that the person is a glass of water. Some people are very, very hurt. They are so hurt that they cannot contain their pain and it overflows like water from a glass and spills on other people. That is a concrete explanation.
Older children and teenagers are capable of discussing the issue more abstractly. Try to draw them out and get their take on things. Again, they will need to be reassured, even if they act like they are feeling fine about the whole thing. Have an open discussion and encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings.
Above all, remember, we are all in this together.